To this day, I maintain that one of the best decisions I ever made was made when I was six. That was approximately the age when I decided I would be an exchange student when the time came. Since my mother had been an exchange student in Brazil and had kept up with her family, I was already a little bit indoctrinated. However, it was really something I was always convinced of, and never did I ever really doubt that it was something I wanted to do.
And so, during first semester of senior year of high school, when everyone was stressing out over getting into college and AP courses and all that, I left it all behind and set off for Vienna, and life has never been the same since. Mostly, for the better. I had the privilege of going abroad with AFS, the world's finest exchange student organization, due largely to its lengthy history and worldwide volunteer network. While there were plenty of challenging times while overseas, it was all worth it in the end, as I came back much more mature, fluent in German, and with more than twice as many friends as I had had before.
So, that was the first excellent decision. The second has been to return to Vienna and Europe ten years after. Living over here allows me to pursue life and my dreams at my own, sometimes sclerotic, sometimes manic pace. I have more freedom living here than I ever could in New York, including not only freedom from the rat race, but freedom from being judged by guys and girls- which is an inevitable facet of living in most places in the USA, and especially New York. And also, I have the freedom to do things like start a doctoral study for free, travel to foreign countries about once a week, and the freedom to go to awesome Europe-wide AFS conferences, like the one I attended in France this past week. Certainly the most fun I've had in months- just a terrific bunch of friendly AFS volunteers from all over Europe (and some from the Americas, Africa, and Asia too) and a great chance to network. I made some great connections about my dream of reviving AFS in Morocco. Clearly I could never do it by myself, but with a bunch of friendly, motivated AFS volunteers and staff to help out, why not? And that would not only be fun and a great experience, but would also help out in reaching out to an Arab country that the USA and Europe could certainly use better relations with. Stay tuned.