Returning to your home university after studying abroad is like waking up from a dream. In this dream, you met many new people, saw many strange, new things, and didn’t have to attend to some of the normal stresses of everyday life in the modern world. All good things must come to an end, however, and so must a good dream when morning comes.
It’s difficult to say what exactly one gains from travelling for the first time in a situation like this. I had never before left America prior to this exchange, so everything was very new for me. Being thrust into a new situation like this, where you must still function like a real person (be responsible for academics, home matters, laundry, etc.) is much different from going on a vacation somewhere.
Even though it is tough to quantify the results of this exchange, I can certainly say one cliche thing has happened: my mind has opened a bit more. Yes, I’m sure you hear this a lot, but it’s extremely true. I’m not just talking about opening up to other cultures and ways of doing things. I’m also talking about being more open and patient with people in general, and adopting a different perspective on your home country.
People who grow up in a certain culture will easily adapt to whatever the culture demands of them, so yes, the Japanese will work hard, the Americans will be very vocal about their opinions, etc. A culture cannot be defined as good or bad, it can only be said that it exists, since it is a product of many complex forces over time. It is incredibly hard to change purposefully. So when you meet somebody who does things differently, you must accept it. You can’t convince them to be like you unless they really want to be like you. They act the way they do because it’s normal for them, and the same goes for you: your culture is not superior or more important, and you are just another person in this world. I’ve found myself adopting the perspectives of others constantly after my trip, and it’s quite helpful for being more patient and open-minded in a variety of situations. This attitude carries over to not just customs and cultural norms, but various things from musical preferences to political opinions.
The biggest unexpected change for me was in the way I view America. Before my exchange, I was a typical “this country sucks” kind of guy, but again, this opinion doesn’t really make sense. A country simply is, and each one has certain problems to deal with, not just America. To all the hipsters out there: no, moving to London, Madrid, or Toronto will not be moving to paradise. These are all cities full of people. Some will be nice, some will be mean. Certain differences between cultures will exist, but the fundamental problems with most countries will always abound. Racism will exist, poor people will exist, and injustices will exist. There is no paradise here on Earth just yet. There may be a place where you find yourself more comfortable, but that is about as far as you can go.
I’ve also learned many things about myself on this trip. For example, I now know I’m not terribly comfortable in the big city. However, it’s the best choice for minimizing environmental impact and saving money, so I’ll be in big cities for a while I’m sure.
On your exchange, you will definitely have fun. You will be amazed. You will meet many interesting people. You will learn. And you will certainly have trouble explaining what you learned, which is why some of these concepts cannot be taught in a classroom. I’m sure this post hasn’t really conveyed the concepts clearly either. You just need to go and it will make more sense.
All in all, when you study abroad, make sure to embrace your surroundings. Open your mind. Think about things objectively. You will have a great time, and you won’t regret it. I certainly don’t regret it!
Well, it’s back to reality, as I’m back in my element now. There is no longer an excuse to shirk my responsibilities. I hope all who have read this will consider studying abroad, or at least challenge themselves to exit their comfort zone. It’s been a pleasure writing for UFIC Blog from Abroad!