Then and Now

Before traveling abroad, many people take on an overly confident tone that they can handle anything that life throws at them. After all, this is nature’s fight or flight mode kicking in. When faced with a challenge, you can either decline it and run away, or face it head on and do your best. Of course, when faced with the challenge of study abroad, I decided to tackle it headfirst through applications, purchasing a plane ticket, and researching the culture I hoped to become immersed in. It wasn’t until now, the end of my experience, that I can take note of my hubris in my abilities to bear certain stressful situations. It is not simply “fight or flight,” but a long process of determining what you can and can’t do and how to enjoy the process along the way. Additionally, no one likes to see themselves as a villain, so it was difficult to admit that I’d struggled with prejudice against those who didn’t share similar moral and/or political beliefs – something that is all too clear to me after my experience at a school where I seemingly held most of the population in contempt.

 

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Taken four days before departure, this photo shows how excited I was for the season and for my upcoming adventure!

 

Before departure, I considered myself someone who could lead, handle difficult situations, and was as tolerant as anyone could be. I was a confident beacon of multi-culturalism among friends and my community members back home, so I thought an exchange in a developed country I’ve already been to would be easy. I found afterward that I was overly confident – I was not as prone to adaptations or functioning under high ambiguity as I thought. I’ve discovered in myself a person more rigid than I thought I was, adamant in my own personal beliefs and politics, unwilling to bend. However I did also find that I am not nearly as disheveled as I thought I was. I am someone who truly can live independently – managing my time well, conducting research, managing small crises, and resolving problems efficiently.

A lot of the things I thought would be a breeze, like meeting new people and working with different kinds of folks turned out to be my biggest challenge. Affluence made me uncomfortable in this elite environment, and I felt myself as an outsider among organizers and communities in need, like the refugees I got the chance to meet and work with. Having come from a community of need myself, I felt in an awkward position that I belonged to neither group – something I realize might be social culture shock. I was not able to look past certain viewpoints in people I met. In these ways, I disappointed myself. But for me, study abroad represented a prime opportunity to confront some of these weaknesses and move past them in my character. Through this work, I’ve discovered that I can handle mediating arguments and I’ve learned when to walk away from certain topics. I use my time wisely in accordance to what I need and I’ve grown stronger as an independent woman.

I feel as though I’ve improved in several ways that I wanted to before I left – I’ve become more patient, a better listener and observer, and challenged my survival skills. I’ve become even better at asking for and receiving help, and am more willing to confront my problems and look for alternative solutions.

Overall, I see major improvements in my way of living and my personality. This experience has really taught me the need to enjoy situations in which I do not have control and may not necessarily feel constantly comfortable.

 

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Taken on the last day of class I had in Reims, even my friends noticed that my smile is a bit strained, as I was anxious to be done with the semester and return to Germany to see my family before returning home to NY.

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Filed under Tammie in France, Western Europe

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