I always knew that I wanted to study outside of my home country, Colombia. I didn’t have any specific reason why, but from an early age I had made up my mind.
Luckily for me, I went to an American school back in Colombia, which acquainted me with American culture and the English language from the age of four. My parents chose this school because they wanted my brother and I to learn English and study at a school that didn’t enforce Catholic values like the other institutions around town. Ultimately, they wanted us to get a different educational experience than the one they had so that one day, we would be prepared to study abroad.
Having received an American education and having my parents support were two key factors that made it possible for my brother and I to study in the United States. Even though I considered several options (Spain and Australia for example), I settled for Boston, Massachusetts, the city I’ve called my home for three years now. With graduation just around the corner, I’ve been reflecting on how studying away from home has helped me grow.
1. It helped me become truly independent.
Having mom and dad miles away meant that I had to go apartment hunting and move on my own, buy my own furniture (and find a way to build it – those Ikea instructions are not as helpful as you think), make sure to pay my bills, and have a budget so that my allowance could last all month. Also, being an international student sometimes meant not seeing my family for a full semester in comparison to my American friends who could go home during the long weekends. Every lonely Thanksgiving break I spent in Boston reminded me that being away from home was only making me stronger.
2. I met incredible people from all over the globe.
When times grew lonely, I always had my international buddies. After all, they were the only ones who could understand the F-1 status struggle: not being able to work outside of campus, for example, and constantly stressing about the fact that you can only stay in the country for a year after graduation. We all bonded over these things, and it was a relief to know that these people had my back. I felt this way with my international orientation leader who was from India but lived in Taiwan. He acquainted me with Boston, helped me file taxes, and gave me advice on how to make sure my professors pronounced my name correctly. At a first glance, a lot of things made us different; for instance, he was a Hindu and I was raised Catholic. But no matter how different we were, I came to appreciate his religion and culture and was able to learn from someone who had a different worldview than I did. Building friendships with so many diverse people taught me that when we go beyond stereotypes and prejudice, we give ourselves the opportunity to meet incredible human beings and learn from them.
[bctt tweet=”When we go beyond stereotypes and prejudice, we give ourselves the opportunity to meet incredible human beings and learn from them.” username=”wearethetempest”]
3. It made me understand that different cultures do things differently, and that’s okay.
From dating to greetings, every culture has a different way of doing things. During my first semester in Boston, I found it difficult to decipher how I should greet people because back home we always kiss once on one cheek. However, I eventually got used to the fact that Americans prefer handshakes and Europeans like kissing once on each cheek. A similar case of adjusting happened when I realized that Americans eat dinner earlier and come home soon after, which explained why my roommate worried about me when she was getting ready for bed at 10 p.m. and I was not home. It was difficult to adapt to these different schedules, but we eventually did. Whenever I was coming home after midnight, I made sure to text her. Although these might seem like small parts of my study abroad experience, it opened me up to cultural differences and made me realize that it’s okay for people to do things differently. In fact, finding out about all these differences continues to be fun every day!
4. I learned where my country stands in a global context.
All those deep conversations about politics and current issues in and outside the classroom with my diverse group of friends made me realize where my country stood in a global context. Simple discussions like what my friends thought about Pablo Escobar or the first thing that came to mind when they heard about Colombia, informed me about what the stereotypes of my country were. Ironically, this strengthened my national identity and allowed me to understand what it meant to be Colombian in the eyes of the world. It also made me care more about the things my country could do better: improve public education, decrease corruption, and increase our sense of national identity. Overall, this made me proud of the obstacles we have overcome as a nation, aware of the ones we are still fighting for, and appreciative of my people for being strong in the midst of violence caused by the war on drugs. Studying abroad made me love my country even more, which is perhaps what I’m most grateful for.
[bctt tweet=”My diverse group of friends made me realize where my country stood in a global context.” username=”wearethetempest”]