Notions About Exhaustion
When people talk about their exchange year they mention one icebreaker (a funny story of them being wrong or messing up), one instance of how they changed, and about a dozen things they loved about their exchange year. Of course, this is perfect for your aunts, uncles, and grandparents, for your friends and teachers. But for new exchange students, it doesn’t quite cover all the bases.
When I was gearing up to come to Germany and would tell people about it, they would always tell me what my year was going to be like. It would be fun; it would be educational; it would be exciting; it would be full of growth. No one ever told me it would be exhausting.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful to be in Germany and to have this experience and I wouldn’t change a thing, but it is exhausting. A lot of things contribute to the feeling, so some are affected worse than others but I’d bet everyone feels it at some point.
It all comes down to this: being an exchange student takes so much work.
It takes work to try to speak and understand German. It takes work to try to build a relationship with your host family and with people at your school. It takes work to try to find things to do. It takes work to be present in the moment all the time. It takes so much work that it can stifle creativity.
That’s what happened to me.
I love writing more than anything else in the world. It’s been my outlet for years and my parents and siblings have all, on more than one occasion, been forced to read a piece of my writing and tell me what they think. I hope that one day I become a full-time writer, and it’s why I became a blogger. However, writing takes time and creativity and thinking. And unfortunately, when I became exhausted, I stopped writing.
I stopped writing blogs, poetry, short stories, all of it.
Because just being in Germany, being in that unfamiliar environment, is exhausting. And once that exhaustion hits, every little other thing builds up. I began to miss my family more, I began to get frustrated with my lack of progress in speaking German, I began to fill every second of every day with things and became even more exhausted.
One of my friends recently asked me, “how did you get out of the funk?”
To be honest, at first I was shocked. Why was she asking me? I didn't think I was out of it, not to mention I didn’t think I got out of it in any sort of healthy way. I thought about it for a second longer and then I realized. I’m not out of the funk, or whatever you’d like to call it, but I’m on my way.
The first step, as with everything else, was recognition. I realized that I stopped eating regularly and eating healthily, I realized that every time I called my family, I was nearly in tears when I hung up, I realized that I spend so much time with other exchange students to bring more English back into my life. And I realized I stopped writing.
The next step was to tell someone about it. For me, that was my friends on the program with me. I got so incredibly lucky to be close with the people I am because they’re all so very amazing and they all care so very much.
The final step is admitting it’s okay. A common theme I’ve noticed in people who go on exchange years is that they need validation in some form. For me, it's in education and in my writing and with my feelings. I told my friend, to start getting out of the funk, you have to admit that it’s not just you. Everyone else feels this way, too. And I don’t mean that in a “someone else has it worse, you shouldn’t be feeling like this” way, I mean it in a “there are so many people this affects, it’s so valid” way.
So, if you’re going on an exchange year, think positively, but don’t think naively. It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows, but it will be life-changing. To end, I’d like to leave you with what my cousin told me when I was talking to her about all this: If you take a step back from it all, you’re still in Germany. You’re doing something at least 90% of people don’t get to do. I can’t imagine that it’s easy, but it’s still incredible.
Note: Please, if you ever feel like I described and it’s not getting better, reach out to someone. Nothing is as important as your mental health and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice that to have a good year. You can reach out to adults, whether that ends up being host parents, your parents back home, or people in your organization. You can reach out to friends, especially friends also on exchange because they likely know what you’re going through.
I have now been in Germany for nearly two whole months. Two, exquisite months full of new experiences, friends, and most importantly; snacks. This post contains (in my opinion) a definitive guide to some of the best German snacks!
Take a look into a hectic - but amazing - week in Germany. This post covers some of the highlights, from attending a concert in Bonn to watching Barbie, to climbing to the top of the Cologne Cathedral. The post also includes some advice on how to handle homesickness and the activities I use to help distract myself from those thoughts!