“I did my very first exchange in Panama when I was sixteen. It felt like such an intense experience. Until about two weeks into my exchange I just felt really excited. My host family literally lived in the jungle. We didn’t have water. There were monkeys. It was crazy. No taxi driver would even take me there.
It’s so far away from the “real world”. And I caught a lot of attention there because I was almost the only white person in the whole country. White people are generally there as tourists, not as residents.
I once got a bus to meet a friend at the airport. It was a three hour bus journey. There were no bus stops, you just had to tell the driver when you wanted to get out. I accidentally went too far and got off the bus in some random town. It was in a region where no tourists ever go. I got off the bus and all these people began walking towards me. It looked like a zombie apocalypse. I got scared and ran away.
I was one of the only white people in the school. So I definitely stood out. They just treated you like a guest the whole time In the beginning it’s cool, but once you’ve been there for six months you want to get past that stage…
Returning home was tough too. You’ve been through so much and want to share that experience with others. But your friends get tired of hearing your stories. In Panama, I found it hard to find Panamanians who accepted me and now in the Netherlands it increasingly felt the same way.
There was a time that I really struggled with this. I didn’t want to keep making new friends all the time. But I’ve made some peace with it.
When I meet new people I try to enjoy the time we’ve got together. And that’s it!
It’s only after that you see if it will become a bigger friendship or not. And if it doesn’t, that’s fine.
I’ve turned all of these feelings into a blog I’ve called “Nationality Unknown”. It’s about the experience of not feeling entirely at home in your home country. But also not feeling totally integrated into other places too. The feeling of not really being defined by one particular country.”
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