I didn’t really know what to expect when I first thought about spending a year abroad.....

  • Hostmom and I at the top of the Martini Tower, Groningen
    Hostmom and I at the top of the Martini Tower, Groningen
    Jack KirwanHolland

......there were a lot of what ifs. I mean, where I come from it was pretty unheard of for a 15 year boy to take off and leave to spend a whole year away from home. To be perfectly honest, I was hesitant at first. The usual questions entered my head: Will I miss home? Will I be able to make new friends? Will I be able to understand anything? What happens if… However I always knew that I had a huge interest in other cultures and peoples, and I could not pass up this opportunity. The quiet whisper of a foreign language or the thoughts of travelling to someplace unknown got my blood pumping and I knew this was for me.

Anyway, time was soon approaching to my departure to France and I couldn’t really imagine what lay in store for me. When I got off the plane I met another Irish girl and we were brought to a youth hostel in Paris by a member of the partner organization. I met people from all around the world during these three days and they were truly memorable if not some of the best days of my life. I met people from Finland, China and Colombia to name a few, we made a Facebook group so we could stay in contact whilst in France. I keep in contact with the friends I met at this orientation still do this day, and it was similar in Germany.

When I met my host family for the first time, I was really scared but it was a good kind of scared and excited at the same time. The same was the case for school and I’m not going to lie and say everything is plain sailing all the time. It takes a lot of time and patience to learn a language, building up new relationships is tough but you need to know that everyone is nearly always ready to help you and there are always people roaring to get to know you. You’re in reality a new exciting person from the outside and I can’t help but say that everyone was more than eager to get to know the new Irish guy.

Being an exchange student gives you a once in a lifetime opportunity, clichéd though it may sound. You get to live what the casual tourist never gets to see. You live as a local with the locals, something that living with a native family can only provide. I never thought the relationship with my families could be so good. I left France over 8 months ago and I send emails to my French family every week and plan to go back soon. My German family are coming to visit me in two weeks and my sister has even made good friends with my German host sister. You really need to understand that exchange is something that never stops and it will remain a part of your life for the rest of your life, something that you will cherish and truly never forget.

The new exposure to new cultures and ethnic groups lets you see that there is a lot more outside the confines of Ireland and almost your limitations are endless. This exchange has become a part of m. I think it lets you discover the type of person you are and at the same time want to be. There are a lot of things that I didn’t explain here but I suppose that was with some intention. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind and who knows? Maybe this time next year, you’ll be the one writing this.