Wednesday, May 20, 2009

the AFS experience

I know its been a long time since i last blogged, but Im hoping some people still read this :)
The AFS experience is nothing like I thought it would be. First of all,when I first left Alaska I couldnt even imagine being away from my family, becuase I have gone through my whole life with them around. Being away from them was by far the biggest change. With my family I feel comfortable, I can express my feelings, and most importantly be myself and relax. I initially felt lost in Portugal without that constand comfort and support, but I managed to get by. Gradually I got to know my friends better, my family host family helped me with everything, and keeping busy kept me from dwelling too much on how much I missed them (there is a name here for missing somebody that cannot be translated. It's to have "saudades". I immediately knew what people meant when they said they had "saudades"). Now, I feel like I can finally handle being without my family coonstantly. Of course I still talk to them, think about them, and love them, but I know that my host family here will help me, or my friends, my counselor or other AFSers. And I know that I can handle problems on my own as well. I have learned to depend on other people and trust other people, something which I think will be invaluable in the future when I am on my own.
I think that some people can immediately feel at ease with themselves in different situations (like not understanding whats going on, not being able to communicate) but it has taken me some time. Now I think that I am better at being in those strange situations, and am more prepared for when they come along after this experience as well. For example, I was very quiet when I first came to Portugal, I felt really out of place. But now I have a group of friends at school, I can speak in Portuguese well enough to get around and talk with my friends, and in school I know whats going on. I dont feel like an outsider, though I am differnet, but I feel like I belong in a way. I think the most gratifying feeling from this experience, so far, is feeling like I am supposed to be here. I dont know if I am describing this correctly for all of those who haven't been on an exchange, but I know that it is a unique feeling to be a part of a family and school in a new place and not feel completely out of place. Its a good feeling.
So even though I have had some of the emotionally most difficult times of my life, I am glad to have come to Portugal, and I am enjoying it. Being here and dealing with harder problems than what I would have been dealing with in Alaska has made me grow, and has put into perspective my attitudes there, my attitude here, and what I type of person I want to be. And for the rest of my time here in Portugal, I am going to enjoy it as much as I can and take advantage of all there is here.