How Stella Stole My Heart
High school exchange student from Kosovo with Golden Doodle dog in Indiana

Or "How I Learned to Love Dogs" 

Overcoming fears takes a lot of courage. One exchange year abroad will surely get you out of your comfort zone. You have to step out of your way of living and adjust to a new life. Everyone who decides to do an exchange year at this young age is brave.

I am Puhiza, a YES student from the 2022-23 exchange year. I was brave enough and ready to face everything—to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. It was exciting… for most of it. But I wished with all my heart that my host family would not have a dog.  

As long as I remember, dogs have been my biggest phobia. I remember changing my way if I saw a dog coming. I would cancel plans or be late, because I switched to a longer road. My body trembled every time a dog was near.

It wasn’t just a little fear anymore; it became serious. I used to see trash cans as dogs and the worst scenarios would go through my mind. And now, here I am, crying because I miss my host family and local coordinator’s dogs.

You can imagine how someone who had never even petted a dog before might feel after a big golden doodle almost knocked them down.

When I entered my local coordinator’s house for the first time, her dog Stella jumped on me. You can imagine how someone who had never even petted a dog before might feel after a big golden doodle almost knocked them down. The first seconds were scary but after a few minutes, she stole my heart.

Love doesn’t need words to be shown, and that’s exactly what Stella did. She showed me love, and I could feel it. She came and hugged me; she wanted me to talk to her, and we formed a bond. At first, I was confused. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with her. I normally don’t interact with dogs, but it felt nice to let her hug me.

And my life became happier. I think I found a love that I was missing all my life—the love of a dog. It was that relationship between a dog and a human that I had seen in the movies but never imagined would happen to me. 

I started visiting their house more often, because I wanted to see Stella’s excitement when she saw me. Taking her to the park, letting her out, rubbing her belly, and letting her take out my hair tie, all became my favorite ways of spending my free time.

I also started to get familiar with and close to other dogs and volunteered in pet shelters. Stella and her love changed my perspective, my behaviors, and the way I saw dogs.

I still might be late though, because now I will stop to pet and play with every dog I see. My unforgettable exchange year taught me a lot of things, and I grew in many ways. But adjusting to loving dogs is one of the things I’ll always be grateful for.

—Puhiza (YES, Kosovo), hosted by the Trail family (IN)