Dear Teen Me,
Don’t be afraid to fill out the stupid application your parents will hand you in a couple of months. No, not the one for your driver’s license. Or for college. No, this one is far more important. It will change your life in more ways than you can imagine because when you make that courageous decision and pass those rigorous, stomach-churning interviews, you will see I’m right.
You’ll be selected as a Rotary International Youth Exchange Student to Brazil.
But you’ll miss your senior year, I can hear you say. That’s true, and if you accept this fabulous opportunity it means you won’t become the most unlikely class president, you’ll skip prom and you won’t participate in graduation. But the truth is—
A: When the jocko president, who beats you by 13 votes, learns he has to plan class reunions and no longer wants the job, you’ll be able to tell the class advisor, “No thank you, I cannot accept the office of class president because I have other things to do like live in a foreign country next year.” Better to leave them wanting more;
B: You won’t really be able to go to prom with the date whom you really want to since you’re not out, so you’ll save yourself a lot of money. Plus, you saw Pretty in Pink, you’ll remember more from that movie 20 years from now than you would about putting on a tux that night;
C: While your friends are sweating their asses off wearing caps and gowns in a muggy June graduation on a football field, you’ll be sweating your ass off and drinking caipirinhas in tropical Rio de Janeiro.
I know you’re a skeptical, analytical kid who doesn’t like change, so since you’re still not convinced, here are some highlights of what you will experience during that year:
You will be paired up with an amazing and loving family with a mom, a dad, and four incredible brothers who treat you like one of the family.
You finally get to live in a high-rise apartment building in a city with views of parks and houses that extend out to the mountains.
You learn another language, and in one year you speak Portuguese better than you do French, despite three arduous years of French classes where you never could quite keep straight those pesky indirect/direct objects. In fact, by month six, you start dreaming in Portuguese instead of in English.
You travel within Brazil on a month-long trip and see more of that country than you have seen of the U.S. up until now.
You learn to drive a stick shift. And a motorcycle, which is liberating and terrifying at the same time because you’re often not wearing a helmet. You never do that again when you return to the U.S.
You are able to walk on the top of the congressional dome in Brasilia because 9-11 hasn’t happened yet.
You write lots of descriptive letters because e-mail and Skype haven’t been invented yet, and years later you are thrilled your mom saved them all for you. Sometimes when you re-read them, you can’t believe you told your parents so much detail, but you are relieved you left out the parts about the hitchhiking and robbery (your friend Peter).
You experience how one part of the world views the U.S. and learn to defend your country in ways that you wouldn’t have from within its borders, though deep down inside you still believe Reagan is evil.
You return to Brazil with your husband more than 20 years later, and your family and friends welcome him into their homes just like they did you, only now everyone also has families and jobs and wrinkles and a few extra kilos, which still confuses you because it’s metric.
These are only a few of the reasons why it is essential you fill out that application and take that first step. These 330 days shape you in more ways than junior high and high school put together.
So instead of greeting your parents with negativity when they hand you the application, why not give them a hug because they are supportive of you leaving their small town to see the world and to find your true self.
You won’t regret it.
Born in South Korea, Andrew spent his first seven months staring at other babies in an orphanage, wondering where everyone would end up, until he was adopted by an American couple. Raised by a minister and a teacher in rural PA, Andrew was never quite sure whether he stood out because he was a pastor’s kid or because he didn’t look like everyone else. After N.Y.U. and four years of working on Capitol Hill, Andrew moved to L.A. He earned his M.F.A. in screenwriting from U.S.C., where he met Julia Swift. Together, they have written for dramas such as Smallville, The Book of Daniel and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Not surprisingly, the stories they tell often deal with families or sticking up for the underdog. BOLD is their first novel. Andrew has completed 12 marathons and lives in L.A. with his husband and their dog.