Today marks two years from the day that I left Sydney to embark upon the most challenging, heartwarming and definitive six months of my life. Two years ago, I packed my things and moved to the other side of the world for half a year, and it was on my first day in college, terrified and tired and my face tear-stained, that I met Anna.
She was super sweet and had it all together, and we quickly became friends – we cooked together, partied together, travelled together. And when Anna left college at the end of the semester, I felt her absence keenly.
I hadn’t seen her since June 2015, and then at the end of December 2016, I was lucky enough to have a visit from my beautiful Danish college buddy!
Hosting her at my place felt like a return to Italy of sorts, like we had switched back to our times planning holidays in each others’ rooms and cooking dinner together in the college shared kitchen. During the three weeks of Anna’s stay in Sydney, we managed two road trips, met wild kangaroos in Booderee National Park, went stand-up paddle-boarding in Jervis Bay, walked through Jenolan Caves, hiked in Katoomba National Park, stood and bathed in Wentworth Falls, explored the alleyways of Melbourne, watched the Australian Open on the big screen in Federation Square, got caught in the rain while walking from Coogee to Bondi, and traversed Sydney city several times over (just to name a few things)!
And then, just like that, the three weeks was over and we were back at Sydney Airport and I stood there waving goodbye, sniffing and wiping tears from my cheeks, as Anna passed through the Departures gate.
Spending those weeks with Anna reaffirmed for me what I already knew when I left Italy all those months ago. That the real legacy of exchange programs is not the education, the language, the culture. It’s not the travel or the amazing things you see and experience. All of these are truly great and essential things, but the most definitive element is the people, the international network of sisters and brothers which you create through these travels and through these experiences. The body of amazing humans who become your points of contact all over the world so that at the end, you have family in all corners of the globe. And that’s an incredibly valuable thing to have.