I grew up in a family where the key value was the family itself. There were six of us: my parents, my grandparents, my brother and me. We lived in a town where almost everybody knew everybody else. We were just another family in town, not outstanding in any way. My dad was an engineer, mother - a nurse, grandpa used to be a journalist and grandma a teacher. We lived a calm life of a small town where major life problems people had were those of your family. To me it seemed that out family was not like everybody else. I thought we were too closed in ourselves. We did not have people coming to our home very often, all the holidays we celebrated with just the six of us around the table. We knew everything about one another - how each day was spent, who are friends and acquaintances of each of us, what we do at work/school, etc.
Since childhood my brother and me were taught that family means the closest people in the world for you, and no one will ever care for you as much as your family does. With our grandparents living with us, both being very intelligent and both having gone through the second World War, we were taught to respect old people; with our parents working hard full-time to provide for the family we were taught to appreciate the true value of each dollar earned; with both grandparents and parents finding time and constantly having a desire to help my brother and me to study, to think and to appreciate the world around us, be it reading and discussing a good book or going out in the early morning for a family picnic, we learned to appreciate knowledge and love nature. Yet at times this family closeness irritated me, it seemed to me that we are like aliens in our town where everybody respected us, yet we did not have many friends; we were very close among ourselves, and I wanted to spend more time with my school friends rather than family. It was not until high school that I realized the true value of family and my place in it.
When I was a freshman in high school, I have read an announcement in a national newspaper about a student exchange competition. According to the information given in the paper, the competition was sponsored by the government of the other country and took place every year and anybody who is currently a sophomore or a junior, and has at least a B in the language course can apply for a participation in a student exchange program. There are three phases in selection process, and those who successfully pass all of them are sent, absolutely for free, for a year to another country; these students will live in a foreign host family, go to school there, experience new culture and way of life and make friends across the ocean. Of course, for me, who, like almost everybody in our home town, has never been abroad, this sounded like a lifetime opportunity. I wanted to try, so I told my parents about it. First of all, even though I was among top students in our class, I felt that in order to participate in such a program, where the competition is undoubtedly fierce, I have to further improve my language skills.
Therefore, I need an individual tutor. As I said before, my family did not have extra money. However, my parents saw how desperately I wanted to participate in the exchange program and agreed to pay for the tutor if I myself find a good one. This was my first lesson: I had a goal, and if I wanted to reach it, I had to put some effort to it. Even though my parents agreed to pay for the lessons, this was the first time in my conscious life when I had to do something of an “adult” nature - find a tutor. I found one. It was a teacher from my school who was known for being a professional language instructor giving private lessons, who has a lot of students and takes a high rate for one lesson. I managed to convince the lady that I am a student she wants to have, and she agreed to teach me at a lower rate. I spend the next year running between school, sports practices and language lessons. It was hard and I was going to give up the exchange program idea at least once every month in that year, but in those moments there was always either my mom or my dad who kept telling me not to give up, telling me that I have a goal and I should keep going.
The year went by and I was in my sophomore class. Starting in September me and my family read every line in every newspaper looking for the announcement of student exchange program - and we found it. The first phase was at the end of October with a results coming in two weeks. This was an examination of a very basic knowledge of language and I made it. Second phase was a four-hour long test, very hard and I was not sure how I did. Results were coming in January. Needless to say, my family spent Christmas break praying for me to pass second round. And I did. There was one last step to go - third phase was an interview with one of the program coordinators. I went to an interview and thought it went pretty well, results came in May. I neither made it nor did not make it. I was chosen not a finalist - meaning a winner of the program - but one of the alternates - people who might be chosen to participate if any of the finalists refuses to go. I was scheduled to call the program office every Monday at a certain time to check whether my status has changed from an alternate to finalists. This continued until July when I was told that this year I will not participate.
The disappointment was enormous. I felt as if I really have lost an opportunity of a lifetime experience. It is here that my family helped me. I remember my mom telling me that strong people are not the ones who never fall but the ones who fall but then get up and keep going. She told me that my age allows me to try to participate in the program again next year. I did not feel like going through the whole process again, but my family did. Almost by force my dad put me in the car next October and drove me to take part in the first phase of the program again. Again, I passed the first round, the second round and went to an interview. Everything was the same as last year, even some questions were the same and the interviewer was the same person. The only difference was the result - I made it. I won and I was going to spend a year in a foreign country. I felt on top of the world, and so did my family. Needless to say, most people in my home town were born here and spend all of their lives here, very few manage to move out, and very seldom do people visit other countries. The fact of me going for a year to live in a family across the ocean was news of almost national importance in our small community. My family went through a lot of trouble for me while I was still a participant in the competition: they believed in me when I didn’t, they helped me to rise when I have fallen, they lived two years of their lives with my goal being their own goal.
I went off to spend an extraordinary year in another world, and my family waited for me. Not only that, they went through additional trouble for me: they had to endure the rumors of a small town of the fact that they bribed the selection committee of the exchange program, my mom had to stand the envy of some of her work colleagues, my private tutor - whom by now was more of a family member - faced the envy of some teachers at school. However, regardless of all the trouble, for my family I was a hero - I did something that nobody else ever did in my home town before.
I spent a great year in a foreign country, I became independent and self-confident, I learned to appreciate another culture and realized that my way of doing things is not the only way. However, the major lesson I learned is that without my family, the background they gave me, their love and support, without them being there for me in my past, I would not be where I am in my present. This story taught me that family is really a treasure to be valued. I learned that high goals can be achieved when you are supported by your closest people. I learned that when you love someone, it is ok to go through some trouble for them, and it is ok to make sacrifices. Most importantly, I learned that it really is ok to fall, but it is not right to give up once you have fallen. The right thing to do is to get up, learn the mistake and keep going towards your goal.
My family today is not the same as it used to be. Grandparents have passed away, I have moved to live in another town and work for a respectable company. My parents and my brother stayed in our home town. When I come home for holidays, we always remember “my foreign story”. When we talk and laugh about it, I do not know what each one of my family members thinks in his mind, but what I think is: “Thank you. You are my best life teachers and if I have you by my side no fall will be too hard for me, I know that with you I will always be able to get up again.”
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