I realise it has been quite a while since my last post, but in my endeavours to procrastinate a little bit more I decided that a little recap of the past years in terms of the impact of an ASSIST year over a longer time-span might be enlightening.
I have long lost count of the days since I left Fort Wayne. It must have been about 2 years ago, give or take. I came back to Austria, overwhelmed with feelings. I yearned to go back, incredibly grateful for the moments I was allowed to share with my fantastic host family and Canterbury High School, yet I was happy to be back on familiar grounds, speaking a language that had stopped feeling native, seeing my animals I hadn’t seen in ten months and above all seeing my parents.
The transition was bizarre. What had just happened a day, a week, a month ago felt intangible, the only proof of my experience were memories and plenty of photos. I may as well have been dreaming. And I was dreaming of it, a lot. Reliving the graduation parties, social meets, theatre productions, the many things I tried, yes even the presentation of my independent project stole itself into the vivid images I saw in my sleep.
Over the summer fun had won over revision and I was entirely unprepared for the start school, as I essentially had substituted year eleven in Austria for my year abroad, where I had not taken several classes I would have needed. After having spent the summer traveling the US, riding through the Tyrolean mountains, reading as many books as I could get my hands on, exploring the works of Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock and other filmmakers working prior to roughly 1950 and trying (failing) to bind a book, school was a distant, yet very real thought. In the blink of an eye, summer was over and I stood in front of the school building, wondering what had changed, wondering how I would cope with seeing the people I knew, yet had not seen in a long time.
My last year of school was fantastic. I made closer friends than I had had before the adventure and even I could determine that in fact, I had changed. I had become more open, I would approach people and laugh without wondering what it would entail. In many ways, I see my experiences in Fort Wayne as one of the most formative phases in my life. When I left, I criticised the need to return to the country of origin, essentially making the program a two-year, rather than one-year, experience. Looking back, I would even go as far as to say that the second year, back at “home”, is essential to the understanding of both cultures, to the realisation of the year’s impact, to the idea of ASSIST!
I graduated from the Bundesrealgymnasium Schwaz in June 2014, incredibly grateful for an overwhelming final year of school.
Like many other ASSIST students, I applied to some US colleges, but decided to try applying in the UK as well, mainly because one of the many things I took from the year abroad was that simply trying may lead to amazing things. I thus applied to the University of Cambridge, which I used to jokingly name as my future university (when I was three). Not in my wildest dreams would I have believed that my application to St. John’s College to read architecture would be successful. I am now sitting in my room in John’s writing this post while looking through the thousands of pictures I kept from that year that seems like it was forever ago. At this point, this past October may as well have been a decade ago.
Life is and remains exciting, lessons are learned daily and I could not be happier to say that Cambridge has taught me many great things in the comparatively short time I have been here. I started rowing, am going to as many talks as I can possibly fit in and have not yet given up trying to do everything.
Cambridge has entered its exam term, things are getting quieter, clubs are closing for the intense period that lays a calming cover on the town. It is a surreal experience, entirely separate from that in the US, entirely separate from any other places I was fortunate enough to grow up in, but just as surreal as I seem to, at this point, perceive most of my experiences.
If any future applicants to the ASSIST program happen to read this, I have, in essence (still a short essay in itself), only one thing to say to you (though I could of course say much more, anyone who knows me will vouch for that): DO IT. No matter how scared you are of what it may bring, do not worry about language barriers, problems with adjusting to the culture or anything else. I was incredibly scared when I came to the orientation camp (which I absolutely loved in the end). I almost turned around and ran back to my parents who were standing at the end of the path. I was convinced that I didn’t want this, that in fact I should have declined the scholarship, that being at a day school in a state I had heard of only as the corn state would be horrible, that I would be on a flight back before November. In that moment I decided that yes, I would go home, but that I would simply have to jump into the cold water. I knew that I would not forgive myself if I hadn’t at least tried. I didn’t turn around, didn’t look back.
Of course, I didn’t leave before November, I enjoyed that corn state more than I every would have believed and the school could not have been better chosen. And when it came to the day I had to leave, I cried because I had to leave, not because I wanted to. Don’t let any doubts overshadow an opportunity to see the world in a completely different perspective. Go in, forget about “home”, and above all enjoy! It won’t get any better. Well, it will, but I only say that because I’m too optimistic to admit that the peak of happiness does not exceed the scale every single time it hits the maximum.
Going to Fort Wayne was a decision in the distant past, it was hard and I didn’t think much of it, but it was one of the best I have made in my life.
– STOP –