I have always felt I was different to my family. I seem to care more about things, people and causes than they do. I am more sensitive, I want different things, and I have this incessant need to learn. They just don’t quite get me.

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Nonetheless I think we’re relatively close-knit. My parents have been married for over 30 years and seem happy. My brother and I fight, but in a crisis he is someone who I will always count on. Be that as it may I always felt something was missing from my privileged, sheltered upbringing. I should note here that I always toe the line and I’m quite a frightened Isaac most of the time. However, when it was quite apparent that I would not be able to have a gap year after finishing high school (parents said no) and I would be going to University probably with the same girls I had grown up in school with, I took matters into my own hands.

I was 16 and in desperate need to find something more fulfilling in my life; more excitement; more experiences; meet people more like me. I applied to go on exchange.

I was accepted. I was allowed to go. This was finally my choice in my life. And what a wake-up call it was.

The first month flew by in a blur. Meeting new people, family members, getting ready for a new school year, actually starting at a co-ed school.  It was nerve-wracking and exciting all at once. School started and I threw myself into extra curriculars, class work and meeting new people.

But it was horrible. Class work was fine, the people were fine, everything was just fine. I was in this new place, with these new people and no one knew me. Worse still, no one seemed to want to know me. Not optimal when you’re quite sensitive and thought you’d be around like-minded, different people to the ones you grew up with.

Slowly but surely things got better – I made new friends, got more and more involved and finally, towards the end of the year, I felt accepted. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do and the worst of it? No having my family nearby, whom as much as I thought they didn’t understand me, they didn’t get me, they did.

I generally don’t talk about my exchange year. From the second I returned I answered people’s questions with a non-committal “it was good” or “I had fun” and don’t get me wrong, I had. It just wasn’t the experience I had originally thought it would be.

I learned so much about myself, too much of which to repeat here, however, one major lesson was that you shouldn’t look elsewhere for something that has been right in front of you the entire time. I had been out of my comfort zone, but now I was back where I belonged, with, surprisingly people who did get me and I was much happier for it.

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