Painted in big bold letters above my family’s kitchen cabinets is: ‘CARPE DIEM- SEIZE THE DAY’. From Day One, I think my mom has overused the phrase. That, and ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’
However, one thing I do as she does is travel. My parents have definitely instilled in me the spirit of adventure. My dad, at 16, rode a bike through the mountains of Europe over the course of a summer, and at 21, ran with the bulls in Pamplona. My mom studied abroad and has traveled extensively, from the Fjords of Norway to the pyramids of Egypt. In 2009, my parents loaded all five of us Freeman children in the car for a 7,700-mile road trip across the United States and back. I have seen and heard so much, that for me any chance to broaden my horizons has become a no-brainer.
And consequently, an advertisement looking for possible Rotary Youth Exchange students seemed to shout at me from the page as I was sitting downstairs reading the local newspaper one summer morning. Emails were sent, paperwork was completed, deadlines were met, appointments were made, and before I knew it I received a phone call from Rotary Youth Exchange, letting me know that I had been accepted.
Nine months had passed, and too soon I had to say goodbye. I boarded the plane to Berlin, Germany, and spent the entire flight wondering what I was doing. I was going to be living in a country whose language I was not fluent in, with strangers I had never met, with two suitcases supposed to last for one year, and with the knowledge that I wouldn’t see my parents for another eleven months.
Yet somehow, when the Bergfest of my year was met, I quietly reflected on all the challenges I’ve met and obstacles I’ve overcome, and I realized I have never made a better decision in my entire life. I walked on the red carpet in front of Angela Merkel’s Bundeskanzleramt, I stood on top of the Reichstag, I worked with the United States Embassy, and I took way too many pictures. Amidst all of these experiences, I’ve changed. I now know what hard work means. Hard work is not necessarily physical labor. Hard work is surviving the first day of school while barely understanding anything, after living in the same town and going to the same schools one’s entire life. Hard work is reading "All Quiet On The Western Front" in it’s original language and attempting to understand the incredible cultural background it draws from, after having been taught history from only one viewpoint. Hard work is getting up day after day, wracking the brain for foreign words that haven’t been learned, after having been falsely told that everyone speaks English. Hard work is trying to explain the most life-changing experiences simply in words, when in reality it is better explained through music, through pictures, through memories, and through friendships.