As I sit staring at my three suitcases strategically planning just how I am going to cram all of my precious possessions into them, I can be thankful that not everything I have acquired requires being packed into a carryon. Although I may have done a little too much shopping on Oxford Street, have saved every postcard, brochure, and ticket stub for my scrapbook, and have purchased souvenirs for family and friends, I somehow feel as if I will be returning with a lighter load—of cultural baggage that is.
When we go over to a new culture for the first time, we often bring with us pre-conceived ideas based on what we know from our own culture. This “baggage” tends to hold us back because these expectations are rarely met, and yet we still seem to hold on tightly to them. It is only after we rid ourselves from these presumptions that we will have a real opportunity to engage our surroundings. This is not just culture-specific; I believe that once we are enlightened on one culture’s way of life then our eyes are opened, freeing us to see the world for what it is, and not just what we were expecting it to be. If I have lost this burden, then what have I gained you might ask?
To begin, I am going home with pictures of indescribable places and the amazing friends I have made, irreplaceable memories to reflect back fondly on, and some pretty entertaining stories I can tell for the rest of my life. More significantly, however, I am also going home with a new perspective. The cliché would be to say that this was a life-changing experience, but try as I might to put it into more sophisticated terms, no matter how I manipulate my words it will all imply the same thing: I am going home a different person.
There is no defining moment on this trip or specific person I can point my finger at for doing this to me; it has been a combination of every thing I learned, every place I visited, every person I spoke with, and every friend I made that has caused me to ponder life now from all angles. Before arriving, I had never met people my age from such a collection of nationalities, let alone from across the United States. I can now return saying I have made acquaintances with students from Nigeria, Uzbekistan, the Netherlands, and England (of course.) Many of these connections were made in my public speaking class, where through various speeches given, each of us was able to share our difference in opinion, obstacles we have had to overcome, and what we each hold to be valuable in life and every one of these stories has influenced me to see the world and myself in a completely different way. I am also going home with new friends from across my own country; from Washington and South Dakota, to South Carolina, and to Massachussetts and New Jersey, I have met a wonderful group of girls that I will always remember. Although we all come from the same culture, each one has taught me something inspirational. Whether it was how to cook a certain dish, about fashion and finding one’s personal style, or just about staying true to oneself, we all will be going home with a little piece of one another.
It’s funny, my mom said on the phone yesterday she could already sense I had changed simply by the way I spoke (apparently I have picked up a little bit of the British “proper” English.) Whether that is symbolic of my growing up or just my unconscious effort to perfect my British accent, I am not sure. I just know I have done a lot of growing up in the past 10 weeks, and feel more confident in myself than I ever have before.
As I approach the halfway point of my college career I no longer think to myself, “Can I handle this?” I no longer doubt my abilities to try new things on my own, such as living in a city by myself, or handling the tasks an internship may expect of me. I now know I am capable of learning and adapting to any situation I enter with great ease, no matter how exotic it may be at first.
As much as I would love to stay here, I am now ready to come home. I can declare with great honesty that I have had the time of my life, so why stay longer and risk disappointing myself? I have accepted that I have accomplished what I needed to do for my life and myself, and it is now time to return home and begin applying what I have learned to the rest of my life. This is such an exciting time for me as I begin into my education for my major, eagerly await the replies from internship programs, and begin thinking about the prospects of graduate school. I just can’t wait to get back and see where things lead me. Although I have the pictures, memories, and stories to reflect back on this time in my life, the influence of this experience on anything I choose to do will be a constant reminder of everything I have learned here. By doing things I never thought I would while studying abroad, I have realized that my capabilities are endless.
**This post is posted late. Anna has now returned to the states and is back at Ohio University.