For Jack Riisfeldt, exchange didn’t just introduce him to new places — it reintroduced him to old ones.
Two days deep and I’m overflowing with nostalgia. It oozes out of me like an impossibly fluorescent tar, pooling around my ankles, rising to my waist. I’m bursting with memory, doing all that I can not to tear apart. I’ve fed greedily these last six months, indiscriminately wolfing down Vancouver in all its grime and beauty. Now I’ve found myself in a familiar world with an unfamiliar appetite.
It’s not that things haven’t changed at home, of course they have. But while my experience was conveniently flanked by international flights, my friends had days like all the rest. They’ve progressed, but it’s subtle and unnerving, like static without white noise. Now I’m a blind man in a ball pit with fingers coated in glad wrap, fumbling with colours I can’t see but know to exist. Hell, I can almost feel Admiral Ackbar’s squid-y breath sliming the back of my neck, poised for the illusion to shatter.
I figured out some tricky shit on exchange. I’ve always been more comfortable living in my head; my time away helped me realise that’s perfectly okay. I’m not running anymore, so I’m not angry all the goddamn time. That’s why coming home is so fucking scary. Because it’s not just a trip, it’s my life, and I don’t want to lose who I am now in the familiarity of what I knew before. So I’m going to have every conversation again, talk to my friends like strangers and know them like I never did.
A friend said to me, ‘exchange is over’. Exchange doesn’t just end, it has infected me for life. It’s in my colonial oppressors, wherever they are, just outside of London. It’s buried deep down the coast, and modestly explicating the strengths and weaknesses of Nelson. Godverdomme! There’s too much of it in the Netherlands. When I walk it squelches between my positively phosphorous toes. Whenever you can see I’m not here, I’m there.
That’s why you should go on exchange. Let it sink its claws into your mind until it’s rooted like some cerebral relic. You’ll be covered in wrinkles with a soggy peach for a head before it lets go. It will haunt you forever, and you’ll love it for it.