Carpe diem, they always told me

Amber Billings

After being on exchange at the University of Georgia for two months, the thought of returning to Iowa in December seemed, no offense, almost depressing. I kept asking myself how I could possibly leave this new environment, these new friends and this new job behind in a few short months and not kick myself. And then it dawned on me that it didn’t have to be that way.

I told no one that I was looking to stay for another semester. Quietly, I e-mailed the National Student Exchange coordinator at Georgia and asked him what the possibilities were that I could stay for another semester.

I was expecting it to be this long process filled with paperwork, but actually it was quite easy.

Two days later, the coordinator said I was good to go. And after discussing the decision with my parents, they gave me a surprising thumbs-up. Now came the hard part – to tell the friends I know and love at home that I would be away from them for another semester.

Before coming to Georgia, a friend of mine told me about a friend of hers who had gone on exchange at Georgia and never came back. She begged me to promise that I would come back to Iowa State, and of course, I said I would. But I never expected I would like it here this much to want to stay for an entire year.

Surprisingly my friends took it well. Of course there were the “oh, you don’t love me anymore” sarcastic comments from my friends, and I told one particular friend that I would watch all the “Unsolved Mysteries” she wanted to watch with me when I was back here for my senior year.

But all of them understood this is an opportunity I will probably never have again.

If I only stayed in Athens for a semester, I’d be seizing only half of the chance that was granted to me.

There’s just so much to Athens I’ve grown to love. For example, in Iowa you really can’t drive to the mountains and go camping next to a waterfall for a night. Or you can’t go to Campustown at 2 a.m. and still find a coffee shop still open.

And you definitely won’t find Michael Stipe hanging out at a protest, or Ben and Casey Affleck hanging out at a downtown bar while they’re on vacation (true story – they were spotted last weekend).

And we all know how diverse Ames is. Unless you live in the transfer dorm at Iowa State, it’s pretty hard to escape all the small-town farm folk.

Since last month’s attacks, I’ve realized just how lucky I am to be living in such a diverse dorm.

For a story I did for The Red & Black last week about how students studying abroad were affected by the attacks, one student studying in Argentina told me via e-mail that we should be embracing other cultures instead of focusing solely on the resurgence of American pride we’ve all been experiencing lately.

“I think that the long-term relationships we build with students from other countries will be part of the solution to our international relations challenges,” he said.

The last thing we need to do as Americans is curl up inside ourselves and shut out the rest of the world.

There are some stellar people from every background at UGA; you don’t even have to study abroad to find them.

I see this exchange as an opportunity to really find myself and realize my potential. Before coming here, I thought I was destined for community journalism in Iowa, where now I realize that I am capable of adjusting to new surroundings quickly. I now have faith in myself that I can make it in the big city and not lose myself among all the hustle and bustle.

It’s refreshing to know that I’m not doomed to live in a three-hour vicinity around Sioux City.

I’ve realized that in order to achieve a goal, you just need to take the initiative to find what you’re looking for, know how to get it, and seize the day.

Amber Billings is a junior in journalism and mass communication from Sioux City. She is in Athens, Ga. as part of the National Student Exchange.