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Everybody who have studied abroad to whom I asked for advice before I went to Groningen agreed in one point: doing an exchange is something that teaches lots of things.
To me, personally, taught to see the world and the persons in it in a very different way, much closer, much more concrete, much more marvellous; the world became smaller and bigger at the same time. Smaller because I had contact with things and people that were very far away before, and now I feel them close. Bigger because I thought I knew things before, but now that I really know more I realized for real the world has so many things to be seen and discovered and known, and I feel ashamed of the times when I arrogantly assumed I knew shit; we all know so little, and we are equal in our ignorance.
It taught me also one or two things about what does it mean to enjoy life. Is it true that we have to do expensive stuff or grand stuff or nice-to-post-to-facebook stuff to feel we are having a life worth living? Or, instead, the best moments were those when we were with people we like, talking, exchanging ideas, simply building connections with other human beings? This question is tough, and I haven't been able to digest it trough yet. When I tell my friends how many countries I visited during my stay in Europe, I feel that they think (or I project on them what I internally think myself - and in the end it doesn't really matter, either way it is something I have to overcome as a person) I haven't enjoyed fully, but how to make them understand how PRECIOUS were the days and nights I spent with my friends?
Still on the same topic, the year that passed made think and rethink a lot of things about the future, about carrer, money, success. What is the point after which we should stop having the discipline to do something we don't like but that will bring us good things in the future and start doing more stuff now that brings us good things now? Is there a middle way that allows us to conciliate present and future? I don't mean that we should surrender ourselves to mundane pleasures and fuck our health by doing so, but doesn't it make sense to think that an experience we have today will change us in such a way we will see the world and our subsequent experiences differently? Thinking like that, living the now and searching for new sensations is not recklessness, it is actually a long-term investment.
But I had not become a hippie, because the exchange also taught me that what makes lying in your bed and reading a book at night soooo good is the sensation of having had a productive day, and therefore not having the guilt of procrastination looming over your head.
The exchange put me in touch with people I would have never met otherwise. Many of those people became special, to the point of making me realize that they, before being "people I met during exchange", are simply "people". The friendships I built this year are not souvenirs from my trip to Europe, they are consequence of the impact I had on the lives of the people that had impact in my life. And even though I think this is one of the most important points I wanted to cover, I can't explain better.
What the exchange in Groningen did not teach me was how to handle this emotional luggage, this whole connection I have with the people I met and loved. Last year, when I was going, I had no idea whatsoever of how painful a simple "I miss you" could be, when you are not in the range of a hug, when you can't just go downstairs to be close again. It is confusing, but this "missing" and nostalgia feelings can be felt almost as physical pain.
Maybe that is the last lesson from the exchange, the fact that some things we don't understand and never learn how to handle. The pain of splitting is the price to pay for the privilege of bonding.