I left for my exchange when I was in Form 4, which was at the age of 16. Although my program was only for two months, but I lived a completely different life. I was hosted in a beautiful little town in Northern Italy, called Montagnana located in the province of Veneto. This tiny town had a medieval feel to it, which made the town more breath-taking.

Growing up in a very protective family in Malaysia, I’ve always been told what to do and how to do them. I’ve never had the freedom to decide for myself. I was even at a point where I could not even order pizza for myself as I was too shy to go through the hassle of speaking to a stranger. Yes, my biggest challenge was interacting with people I have never met.

I knew that leaving for Italy, my biggest challenge was going to hit me in the face very hard. I was going to a place where everyone spoke a different language, ate different kinds of food, experience a different climate and culture all at once. I was being placed in a foreign country, with foreign people and foreign culture. How was I supposed to survive?

I did go through a couple of rough weeks in Italy. All the hardships I went through on my exchange transformed me completely. The only way to get through my biggest challenge was to be optimistic. As cliché as it sounds, every day became easier when I thought positively, and was aware and grateful for what my experience had to offer, whether it be good or bad. Whenever I felt myself being so reluctant to participate, all I had to say was “YOLO” and just jump right into it. It became a habit that I still practice to this very day.

Most people would say their favourite moment being abroad in Italy was either skiing, visiting the Colosseum, or even shopping in Milan. My favourite moment in Italy was when I visited my host sister’s (Sara Zovi, YPNH13) family in Vicenza. I slept in Sara’s bed in Italy while she was sleeping on mine back in Malaysia. We literally exchanged lives with each other. While my family was hosting Sara back in Malaysia, Sara’s family was hosting me in Italy. Never have I ever felt more at home, being thousands of kilometres away from my actual house.

To say that I am thankful to AFS for the opportunity they provided me would be an understatement. No words can describe how grateful I am to be able to experience such a lifechanging transition. AFS gave me the necessary tools needed to progress mentally, physically and spiritually in life. My experience in Italy will forever and always be priceless. Ordering a pizza is no big deal now for me. I guess being in a country where pizza originated from had way more impact to me than I could ever imagined.

Grazie mille AFS!

This article was originally  published  in  Budaya Beat E-magazine.