May 2018 — This past mid-May, dozens of exchange students across the Carolinas spent a few hours together to consider the year they are wrapping up and what it will be like as they return home with a new view on the world. This included 17 exchange students from across the Greater Charlotte area. They will be returning to their home country in a few short weeks and were asked to share some words of wisdom to next year’s students. These unedited observations open our eyes to the life lessons of a year abroad.

What did you learn from your exchange year?

I am more of a “yes” person.  I have learned to say yes for a lot of things.  And that has given me so many new experiences and I’m so thankful for that.  – Norway

I’ve realized just how big the world really is, the cultural diversity changed my view of people, and how I interact with them. –– Lebanon

I learned that America is a great country.  But at the same time, by living here, I appreciate a lot of the things that are usual back in my country. — Japan

I learned that Mexican food is pretty good. – Japan

I learned that I didn’t know myself before coming here. Now I know that I can do everything I want. – Spain

Being an exchange student let me grow up so much. You get into new situations every day and have to overcome them on your own.  That makes you independent.  – Germany

I am more mature and independent. I have friends from around the world. I can read sheet music. Family isn’t only by blood. – Finland

I care less about what people think of me. – Switzerland

My aspects about family have changed a lot. The appreciation is a lot bigger. — Germany

The feeling of really wanting to go home.  But at the same time not wanting to go home because of all the things you may never see again. – Germany

Things will not be the same and my friends will have got new friends. You get to know a lot about yourself, get more confident, and independent. – Denmark

You’ll gain weight in 10 months more than what you’d gain in 10 years in your country. – Tunisia

I thought I could be social, but I’m not. This experience gives me a lot of free time by myself. I took this time to think a lot. What I gain and what I’ll take with me is the courage to always try something new to make my life better and the awareness that I should take full responsibility for myself.  – China

Eating dinner as late as 6-7 pm is very strange to me, and is going to be hard to change that habit when I go home.  – Norway

I don’t care about other people’s opinions. I live my life however I want. I like to speak different languages and communicate to people.  – Italy

I can do housework. — Italy

I feel way more independent even though I didn’t have any type of public transportation.  – Italy

Making personal choices has been helpful because I have learnt that we have to think for ourselves and know our parents will not always be there to help us.  – Cameroon

I value friends and family more.– Austria

When we talk to elder people, we say you as plural.  It means respect in Turkey.  It sounds like talking to your friend here.  – Turkey

You should have nice attitude and open-minded because there are gonna be a bunch of question, dumb question, that you gotta answer. Don’t be made about them.  – Thailand

I took up my personal life’s journey and I’m satisfied to have accomplished the first main point.  Being independent and the knowledge of what I can or can’t do. Therefore I’ll keep working hard to get over obstacles life will give me, knowing I can do it.  – Italy

Most of food have it’s own American version.  – Bolivia

World is so small, It’s really similar but also really different. – France

Confidence is everything. – Turkey

AFS Intercultural Exchange of Greater Charlotte is a nonprofit organization whose mission is world peace. This organization hosts and sends dozens of high school students in the Greater Charlotte area every year, as part of an exchange of thousands across 80+ countries around the world.