The question I was often asked after studying abroad, is “what studying abroad meant to me,” which it is hard to put into words; simply because, it was beyond the best months of my life. Especially during that time, study abroad meant everything. While studying abroad, I was forced to change. This positive force, that, when pushed upon me, gave me the opportunity to create an entirely new chapter of my life, one that few would probably experience with me. The ability of how I handled a new city, new language, new people, new customs; led me to the person I am today. This large push that I put upon myself, through being involved in study abroad, allowed me to truly grasp my knowledge of what I can handle. Therefore, being focused with handling and enjoying every minute, there are large changes that occur; and because of this, a new part of me emerged. This part of me, that I was able to become and thrive as, defines the person that I have become since studying abroad.
I believe a large part is the ability to learn. By this, I mean the ability to learn, respect, and accept a new culture and customs. An example in France was the entrance and exit of small in-closed spaces. In France, it is very custom and polite to sat “Bonjour” when you enter a store and “merci” and some sort of salutation such as “au revoir” as you exit. Through many of situations living in France, being able to embrace whatever normality the French do and forget your common routines, you can fully embrace a culture. Of course, there were countless times I was in weird, awkward, and embarrassing situations. There were times I would nod and smile, until there is the moment. The moment when I realized I was asked a question, and the answer was not yes or “oui.” There were other times, when I tried to say English words with a French accent, hoping it was a French word, when it was not at all. However, I allowed the humility and growth that comes along with these moments allow me to understand them, and to use them to help me in the future.
Along with understanding a new culture, I found myself. I am aware of the phrase “studying abroad helps you find yourself” and until I studying abroad, I simply ignored this phrase and thought it was stereotypical. However, I did find myself. I gave up having my fears stop me from achieving the goals I aspire. This fear came from many different places. It came from friends who did not understand my yearning to live in another country, from family who struggled with the distance, from terrorists who aim to strike fear in all of us, as well as my own self creating doubts. I could have chosen to let this fear from others and myself determine my future, but I broke through those barriers of fear, that surrounds all of us, and I chose to live freely, openly, and happily, in France. I did not know French well, I did not know anyone in France, I was anxious about meeting new friends, I was nervous for my new classes, and I would have loved to be closer to family and friends; however, these fears became my motivation. I could improve my French, I could meet people, I could learn more, and I could understand that friendship and love has no distance, and fear has no control.
Learning goes beyond an external physical understanding, but an emotional one. Not just about customs and cultures, but about people because people make a place. I have been fortunate enough to meet many people from different parts of the world and country. Every time I have meet someone, I am always in awe of the things that differentiate, as well as things that unite us. Each person I have meet, has further my thinking and appreciation of their own culture as well as mine. I have seen kindness in a Swedish family, allowing me a place to celebrate Easter, trying hard to speak English around the table, and allowing a shoulder to cry on when my great-grandmother pass away. I have seen patience in a Korean friend, as he tries to speak English, while I try to understand. I have seen humor in an Italian friend and family as she tries to lift a dog that outweighs her by thirty pounds. I have seen acceptance through Australian and New Zealand friends as they welcome a newcomer as one of their own. I have seen satisfaction in a Tunisian lady as I attempt to say a word in her own language. I have seen family in my American classmates as we lived the past semester together. Through these people, I have seen friendships form, as well as hope for the acceptance of our differences, and the bonding of our similarities.
So, what did study abroad mean to me? It meant everything. It meant that humility is nothing to be ashamed of, but something to cherish. It shows that to learn about a culture requires experience in it. The embarrassing, nerve-racking moments; the moments that are hard or are fearful, are in fact nothings to fear, but rather look forward to. Pushing limits can be scary, but can also hold some of the most rewarding experiences. It means that the people you meet, not only effect you in the current time, but hold a part of your thinking in future days to come. Studying abroad means allowing yourself to grow into a person in which you can become and be proud of. Lastly, study abroad is something you can look back in years to come, smile, and dismay any regrets.
By Melissa B.