This weekend, I had the privilege of going down to the Rotary Conference for District 5580 in Bismark, North Dakota for exchange student events and orientation. I’ll touch up on the all the crazy events in a little over a week – this week I have finals, my conference meet, a trip down to State True team with my track team, and I graduate next Sunday.

I volunteered to write an essay and give it as a speech to the Rotary member attendings, but I didn’t know that it would turn out so well. However, people really enjoyed it, and only after did I realize that I had given this speech to the president elect of Rotary International as well as a bunch of other important Rotarians. Here it is!

In past four months, we inbounds have experienced many different responses when we have told people that we are going to be an exchange student. They range from “You’re crazy, I would never do that!” to “I knew an exchange student once!” to “That’s super cool, I’ve always wanted to do that!”

It’s the last one that gets to me every time, because that response used to be me. It was in eighth grade that I first told my parents that I wanted to become an exchange student, and it soon became clear to me that my parents were less than thrilled about my idea. This is understandable since I’m an only child, but it still killed me every time that I met an exchange student.

So many people wish to go on exchange, but fear holds them back. This makes perfect sense, since we are so used to being comfortable in the United States. Becoming an exchange student doesn’t mean that you aren’t scared, it just means that you are willing to face those fears head on and become uncomfortable.

The process of becoming an exchange student starts by requiring you to reach out to people you have never met otherwise. If I hadn’t reached out to the Rotary members that were sitting next to me in the coffee shop right when I was on the edge about going on exchange, I don’t know if I would be standing here right now. Now I confess, that wasn’t the first time that I had talked to strangers in the coffee shop, but for a while the fear of disturbing them plagued me. In the end, I decided that I wanted to become an exchange student more than I was afraid of interrupting the Rotary members’ conversation.

This small step of pushing my fear back has lead me into an experience that will constantly require me to continue on despite my fears. The reality is that going to a different country for a year is pretty scary. We’re not going to be able to see our families for eleven months, will be surrounded by an unfamiliar language, will have to adjust to a new diet, and learn to live in a whole new culture. None of these things are very appealing to the average teenager, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do them.

We don’t gain anything from staying at home and being comfortable. As Victor once told me, we should never feel comfortable on exchange. If we feel comfortable, we’re doing it wrong. I think that we can all take away something from this; as I know Victor sure did. Outbonds, I have no doubt that we will constantly try new experiences and find new ways to make ourselves uncomfortable.

All of this may be intimidating, but the point of this isn’t to be fearless, but instead to have fears and confront them. If there’s anything that high school has taught me, it’s that the best things come from the toughest events. The experiences we will have and challenges we will face will help us grow as people, and this will prepare us for so many other events in our lives outside of ordinary high school.

This is our year to challenge ourselves and learn lessons outside that gigantic college biology book. The reality of an ambitious student in high school is one that involves very little down time and lots of studying at any opportunity. At my school, hardly anyone at the top of our class had a fun high school experience, but that doesn’t have to be the case for us. Not only do we get the chance to succeed academically, we get the chance to enjoy high school in a new country, and I really hope that all you sophomores will be able to say that you genuinely enjoyed high school when it comes your turn to graduate.

No, attending high school in a different country will not be easy. That chance to say that we enjoyed high school and did well academically will not come unless we put a full effort into making ourselves uncomfortable during our exchange year. However, nothing worthwhile comes without facing your fears and putting in a lot of hard work, and the end result of exchange is so worth it. I am excited to see how all of my fellow outbounds – the ones that dared to take advantage of this incredible opportunity – succeed during and after exchange. We are the ones that are taking the path not taking the path not taken, and as Robert Frost would say, it will make all the difference.