by Caleigh Mei Tan

Every time these words leave my mouth I am filled with a sense of joy and pride. To be able to call yourself an exchange student, to be included in a community – more than that, a family – that extends worldwide, to be part of a cause much larger than yourself – who wouldn’t be proud to call themselves an exchange student?

AFS’s mission is to provide intercultural learning opportunities to help people develop the knowledge, skills, and understanding needed to create a more just and peaceful world, and now that I am over halfway through my exchange I can truly say that I have grasped its meaning.

The world we live in now is in desperate need of change. The disparity between the first and third world countries, international terrorism, economic situations, and the list goes on. Most of these problems stem from our selfish human nature. We take but we do not give back, we accept but we do not share, and we think about ourselves before we do others ­– but I believe that the key to changing this is international relationship and understanding.

Cultural exchange breaks down the walls and bridges the gap between nations. The way we view the world and the way we act is largely due to how we were brought up, our culture. What cultural exchange does, is that it shows you how to step back from yourselves, the life you are used to and become aware of other cultural values, beliefs, and perceptions. Everyone has a reason why they are who they are, why they act the way they do, and why they believe what they believe in, and once you understand the circumstances and reasons behind them, reaching an understanding is much easier.

The future leaders must not only think of their own nation’s profit but what benefits the global community as a whole. The road to a better tomorrow will be led by the globally minded, world conscious, and culturally aware scholars of today, and AFS was established exactly to find, enable, and nurture these students. We must be focused on improving our global situation because no matter what divides us: race, culture, religion, location, language – all of these things can be overcome by simple humanity. We are all fundamentally the same. We may speak different languages, believe different things, think different ways, and live continents apart but in the end, we are all humans living on the same Earth. The greatest thing I realized and the most important thing I learned on my exchange is that more unites us than divides us, and for that, I am truly grateful to AFS.