Todays post comes from Maria Torstad. Maria is from Norway, and is in Washington DC for one semester abroad. In this post, she shares her thoughts on what you can achieve while studying abroad, and her own personal experience on this subject.
Studying abroad encompasses loads of perks; you get to develop your language, it looks good on your resume, you get to experience new places and you meet lots of future contacts. For me, however, there is one thing that has been more valuable than all of these; the people that I’ve met. Sounds like a cliché? Maybe so, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Coming to America and joining a highly international program at American University, I met people from all over the world; China, Germany, Colombia, South-Korea, France and Lebanon, and they became my friends. Even though I’ve been told all my life that it doesn’t matter where your from, the color of your skin and so on, it really didn’t hit me this hard until I had familiar faces to put on each country; We are all the same! We all make mistakes, we’re all sad, we’re all happy, we all get drunk and we all regret it the day after.
I personally think that in an ideal world, people would travel more and get to know other cultures and people, because the world needs a population that respects, and is more aware of, others than themselves. Of course, I understand that this is not possible for everyone, but if you have the opportunity, please take it. The best way to learn about yourself, is to get out of your comfort zone, and meeting other people.
I will take an example from my time in DC. One of the best friends I got here is a girl from Lebanon. Lebanon is a tiny Arab country that borders to Syria and Israel, and for a Norwegian girl like me, it doesn’t get further from my reality than that. Of course, being in the US the last couple of months, made it impossible not to know about Syria and the dark, dark times they’re facing. But Lebanon? I never really thought about Lebanon. Now, I love hearing her stories, and comparing our everyday life – even though I must admit it makes me feel both naive and on the limit of stupid sometimes. I can feel the injustice she must be feeling, when there is a car bomb going off, killing over 25 innocent people just because they’re political extremists, and because Lebanon have a unfortunate geographic location. The differences between our home countries are striking, and occur almost in any possible part of society. Yet, she speaks to and about her friends in the same way I do, and have the same kinds of everyday-problems that I have.
Now, the semester is coming to an end. Im going home to Norway, she’s going back to Lebanon. And I don’t want her to. I’ve had nightmares. I’m worried. I care! And this is more or less what I’m trying to say here; it is so much easier to think twice about, and respect, other countries, when you have people you care about associated with them. And that is why it’s not only good for your language and career to study abroad; it’s also good for your understanding of the world. It opens your eyes, it opens your mind and I do believe that it can help you become a better person.