Monday, May 13, 2013

story of a girl: this is me

"anything is bloomable."
--sharon creech, bloomability

So I suppose that I'd better give some backstory before I go any farther.

In the winter of my freshman year, my mom and I read a book called The Global Student. It basically challenged the idea that you go through four years of high school, go through four years of college, and get a job. (the authors called it the "old school" path). Instead, they suggested that you go abroad for one of those years to get work experience, to learn about life, to learn another language, to experience a different culture, or all of the above.
Just like their kids did.

Well, obviously they were a little biased... but the book sparked my imagination. I loved the idea that I could go to another country and spend a tiny bit of my life somewhere else, experiencing the differences between here and there. And so I sent my local Rotary club an email about the short-term exchange that year.
Except that by that time, the short term exchange was full.
So I waited around. Did school. Went to summer camp. Almost forgot completely about Rotary.

And then last fall, I decided to apply for Rotary's exchange... their longterm one, the one that went for a full school year and required you to live abroad for 9-12 months. The book that we read recommended this exchange above all the others, but you could only go during your junior year so it wasn't on my radar screen. Also, it was for a whole year.
Anyway, I hadn't really thought about leaving for a year, but I figured that it was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There's no harm trying, yes?

So I went to the meetings and interviews and that was it. I felt excited and scared and a little apprehensive, and I hoped they would like my applications and that I could go.
About one week later, they called me.

I didn't get in.

But, since the decision was 3-2 in favor of another girl, they still thought I was a promising candidate and they wanted me to be an alternate.
I had no idea what an alternate was.
They explained that I would be a short-term exchange program (STEP) applicant, and that I would basically fly standby and go abroad if there were any available slots for long term (LTEP) candidates. They assured me that after an exchange conference in January, I would know which program I would be going with. And so I said yes.
As far as I was concerned, there was no commitment to the LTEP program yet. I didn't really  think about it.

October passed.
November passed.
December passed.

In January I went dutifully to the exchange conference, and it was amazing. There were 8 (I think) of us alternates, and only four open slots, so they'd need to weed out some of us.
Except that they didn't. They wanted all of us to go.

And so they told us that they didn't know, and we should go to the longterm only conference in March and by then we would know if we. And so all of us nodded our heads and said we really wanted to pursue this, and yes we would go to the conference in March.

January passed.
February passed.

And then about a week before the conference, I received an email saying that I had been accepted to the Rotary Long Term Youth Exchange Program. I was thrilled. And I went to the conference.

The conference was a complete whirlwind. There were some details with my country choices (which I will explain later because this is a crazy long post anyhow), and I met one amazing person after another, and I couldn't believe this was actually happening because I only found out I was going a week ago, and so I went skiing and thought about my choices and thought about my choices and none of us really slept and all of us talked to the YEOs of the countries we were interested in (which for me basically meant all the YEOs because I wanted to visit every single country on the map) and finally on Saturday they announced our country selections.

And I was going to Switzerland.

How to explain that moment?
Well, I was ridiculously thrilled. I couldn't breathe. I cried because I was so happy, and I couldn't say anything for about half an hour (which, for those of you who know me, is very unnatural).

It's still only just beginning to sink in, after months of knowing.

I, Hannah Chinn, am going to Switzerland.


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