Exchange Never Leaves You

9:13 AM

2 years ago, on Friday the 13th, I got the email that changed my life.
I wrote this blog post and couldn't wait to tell everyone.
So 2 years later, I thought it would be fitting to blog again. I haven't in a while, though I have a good ten or so drafts in my blogger queue. It's hard to write about being back in the US, probably because it's hard being back here.
When I got off the plane into the freezing New York weather that I hadn't missed at all, I was greeted with a life where very little had changed. But I felt different. In some ways, this was comforting. I figured it would be easy to fall back into old friendships, routines, and American habits, but it wasn't. It isn't. It's been nearly a year since I left Malaysia behind, and I'm not sure if I feel like I fully belong here yet. I've been scared to write about the whole re-adaptation process because I'm worried it will come across as whiny or ungrateful, when in reality I have some pretty amazing people in my life and I've been blessed with some pretty amazing opportunities. But I'll get to this later. For now, the nitty gritty hard stuff.
To sum it up in a word, return is achy. I find my mind wandering off to random people and places in Malaysia. Night markets, school teachers, late nights on the beach. I think what's hardest to swallow is knowing that it will never be that way again. I'll never stay up late talking to the Europeans, wandering around KL Sentral and taking the LRT to wherever. I'll be having a perfectly fine day, when bam, all of a sudden my mind is 10,000 miles away. To say I miss it is an understatement. I would kill for one more night of roti canai, watching tv with my host family, seeing KLCC's lights go off at night. It's a very common sentiment, but I wish I had enjoyed everything more while I was abroad. Breathed in the scents of jasmine flowers, and incense,and hawker stalls. Gone more places, done more things. Made more friends. But there's nothing that can be gained from regrets, and it's easy to lose sight of the good in a sea of what if's.
Exchange never truly leaves you. It's something that you carry with you in your heart, for the rest of the life. There are people, have been people, who hold it against me. It really got to me at first, how could they insult my experience? But it went away with time. No one can understand what it was like because no one else lived the second life I did. Exchange never leaves you. It's in the flags and ticket stubs and postcards and bangles that clutter my room. It's in the friendships I made, it's in the joy I get when I receive a text from my host mama or from my partner in crime.
Exchange never leaves you because in a lot of ways, it keeps on going.
This past month, I had the privilege of volunteering at the YES Abroad In Person Selection Event. I saw a lot of myself two years ago in this new pool of applicants. It was a bittersweet interviewing them. Though I learned a lot, I couldn't help being extremely jealous that some of them had this experience sin front of them. Notifications went out yesterday, and everyone that received the scholarship was very deserving. If you're reading this, congrats and well done!
In early March, I went to DC for a sponsored programs conference and an Ashoka Youth Venture Workshop. I was surrounded by exchange-minded people and some really amazing alum. The workshop was short, and I'll hopefully get around to posting something about it, but I left with a set of friends around the globe. Special shoutout to Shehab (kebab), Turki, Noah, Hannah Cecilia and Aadil. When I left DC, I was fighting back tears. It's hard to leave behind people you love, and sometimes it feels like that's all I do.
 In October, I went back to Malaysia. I volunteered at the World Marketing Summit Malaysia, and had a fantastic two weeks. I ate as much char kuey teow as physically possible, and took that familiar train ride back to Ipoh. I went back to school, and got kicked out of class by the ever-loved Add. Maths teacher. It was, in a lot of ways, a reminder that I still have another home. Even though it's two very long flights away, it will always be there for me. Sometimes I need to treasure that.
23 all exchange related school absences later, I think it's safe to say that I'll never really go back to life the way it was pre-Malaysia. And that's okay. I love spending time with the exchange students hosted in my chapter, and I'm hosting a girl from Indonesia which is a fun way to keep the Southeast Asian love alive in the house.
I think maybe I need to apologize here. I don't know if any of you will end up reading this, but to my friends, my darlings, thank you for putting up with me. Thank you for listening to my stories and telling me to shut up about Malaysia once in a while. If I live in the past, I won't be able to make new memories. Though I always talk about going abroad again, you make Brewster the best place I could possibly be staying when I'm not jetting off somewhere.
So that's about it. A lot has happened in two years, and it's interesting to go back in my blog and reading my story from the very beginning. I am very blessed, and infinitely grateful for everyone around me.
Exchange will never leave me, because it made me who I am today.
Casual UN pic because this post was very cheesy

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  1. i'm glad that you miss being in malaysia... i'm a pround malaysian ;)

  2. very profound article.....sometimes i too reminisce the good old days, there is nothing wrong to think about your past. These memories serves to motivate and give us impetus to strive forward to the future.
    Malaysia will always love you as the people there value true and genuine friendship.

  3. love to read your post & love to hear a good news from u

  4. Mantab gan informatif, unik dan pantas sbg rujukan blogger newbie. thanks sdh di share... jgn lupa mampir ke blog saya, Blog Dofollow Auto Approve tentang blackhat web traffic, backlink gratis dll .

  5. So great to hear that you were brave enough visit Malaysia! Hope you become more confident, brave, and independent than before.

    ~ alex, Herndon Va.

  6. mantap blognya memang kamu seorang bloger.

  7. It feels good to read this post and even I'm Malaysian currently in Czech Republic, I really miss my hometown. I'm from Perak too, and when I go home, Ipoh is the most frequent place my family and I spend time. :)

    Do come visit Czech, the people are nice here, the nature, the environment too :)

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  9. I enjoy reading this since I am traveling alone in the US for work. This is my first time hearing about such program (exchange). Trust you will make use of the experiences well Hannah.



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