Whenever I look back at my year abroad in the United States, as a Rotary Youth Exchange student, my heart beats faster and a sigh comes out of my mouth. I did it, I think to myself, and I would leave Italy again — without hesitation.

Nothing that came within this experience was easy, but the satisfaction of having done it by myself and for myself, went beyond every fear, distance or weakness.

I arrived in Trumbull Aug. 16, 2013. It was my first time in the United States. I was 17 and that year would have been the longest period of time I ever spent away from my family and friends. I did not know what type of emotions I was supposed to feel but I was excited because the first big adventure of my life was about to start.

I remember everybody telling me how good was my English even though I did not understand them half of the time. I remember missing my family so much. I remember struggling at school. I remember gaining weight. I remember the cold weather. I remember the school bus at 6:30 in the morning. And, at the end, I remember I did not want to go home!  

As I get ready to complete my journey here in America, I wanted to give advice to young students who might be interested to know more about it.

Firstly, and most importantly, you should not be persuaded by people around you that say, “you are going to waste a year or that you will be better off studying at home.”

This experience will not only give you a cultural enrichment in relation to your language skills, but it will give you a wider gain in terms of inner-self-discovery as well as the power of looking at things from a different perspective. It will lead you to become a person with a more international mind set.

Often a student leave as a kid, like I did three years ago, only to come back home as a more mature person. The fact of living by yourself, and with a host family, is something that will help you in your future path. It will be easier for you to deal with people, approach them, and better understand their point of view. You will also make new friends, and that will be one of the most exciting and important parts of the voyage.

Additionally, through your new friendships, you will understand who your real friends are back home.

Looking at the experience academically, it still surprises me how my time as an exchange student helped me prepare for my time at the university level. This is because you face the world with a wiser approach at such a young age.

Nevertheless, I cannot hide that there will be hard times, too. I remember feeling a sensation of emptiness inside myself; this would happen during times when I was not as busy. Nothing was going wrong, but I did not feel right at all.

From a much mature perspective, I can now see that those were the first signs of maturity. It is something that we will all experience at some point of our life and I am happy to say that my host families were there to help me through this changing period.

Therefore, in order to make your exchange year a great year, you will need to be strong and to challenge yourself. It will be likely that you will not understand the language at school for the first month, but that is OK. The key thing is not to put yourself down but instead keep yourself on top of thing doing as much as you can.

The Rotary Youth Exchange offers you the chance to do a life-changing experience. Take this decision, get out of your comfort zone and be proud of yourself. You will not regret it.

Ludovica Maria Muttini is working as an intern with The Trumbull Times this summer and submitted this piece as a reflection to her time as a foreign exchange student. Any prospective students with questions can email her at lmmuttini@gmail.com or visit the Rotary Youth Exchange at https://www.rotary.org/en/get-involved/exchange-ideas/youth-exchanges