“I am going on exchange.”
Those words were the words pinging back and forth in my head for months. It was a way to somehow make the unimaginable more real, like I might actually realize I was going to leave all that I had known for a year.
Even at that moment I had a very stagnant view of what I expected my time abroad to be like. I believed that, within a year, I would be eating croissants in the middle of France, hanging out with friends while snow piled outside in Finland, or walking down some nondescript, moonlit European street right before Christmas.
Then, accidentally, I fell in love.
Initially, I was terrified. I had had dreams of weekend train rides to neighboring countries and trying to find the best chocolate in all of Europe. Instead, I was finding my heart following a future my head did not know I had wanted.
At that time, I had to make a decision. Like the judge of a national olympics, it was my job to assign a rank to each of the available countries to exchange in. Unlike other adjudicators, I had no criteria by which I could compare my candidates. There was no way for my scientifically-inclined brain to whittle my options down, except advice from my family and a gut instinct.
And that is how I found myself, the hour before country rankings were due, sitting up and holding the hand of a girl I had barely met. We both were beginning to realize our ideal exchange would not be in the traditional format, but instead would take us to new parts of the world with languages we did not know at all.
With three clicks, we changed our selections and awaited our country assignments two days later.
After an anxious 48 hours, all the exchange students sat nervously in a large, empty cafeteria. It was the kind of place that should have been filled with poorly-masked BO and whispered drama, but it was closed for the weekend and was instead filled with exchange students– palms dripping and chins quivering– whose muted whispers carried both hope and fear at what may be ahead.
After our names were called, we slowly opened up our envelopes and read where we would spend the next year of our lives. I was overjoyed when I heard my new friend got Brazil, the country she had been hoping for, and, when it came time for me to squeak out my destination, I took a deep breath and said,
“I am going to Thailand.”