Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Guy, Old Home

Well, I’m back. I’m home. I’m sitting in my room writing on the same laptop on the same desk that published the very first entry of this blog, (with the same cat in my lap, for that matter).

It’s taken me a good three or four days to recover from the jet lag of jumping 13 ½ hours backwards. London cushioned me from the culture shock, though I’m still not quite ready to drive somewhere where the cars are on the right side of the road.

I’ve changed. That much is clear. I’m not entirely sure just how much I’ve changed, but living, studying, and traveling on the other side of the planet for a quarter did something to me.

Part of it is a little abstract. We’re used to defining a big part of who we are by our environment and how we interact with it. What our opinions are, what food we eat, where we go in our spare time, stuff like that. So if you’re suddenly plunked down in a completely different environment, where those opinions aren’t relevant, that food doesn’t exist, and those places aren’t accessible, who are you?

When I was a kid, I used to think the idea of people “finding out who they were” was laughable. You are you. You know who you are better than anyone possibly could. If you try to “find yourself”, all you’ll end up doing is chasing your own tail, right?

But when you take whoever you thought you were and put that person somewhere you’d never expect them to be, you’re in for a surprise. It’s half adventure-seeking, half science experiment. What would happen if, like me, you found yourself in a rural Indian hospital compound around 10pm, looking for a friend’s pregnant cousin so you could deliver a get well message, and the power suddenly dies? I know what I did, I learned more about me. What would you do?

Beyond that, once you’re back home in your old comfort zone, once the experience is a memory, a story you can tell at parties, post in a blog, or keep secret, do you look at yourself the same way as you used to? What if you had a couple hundred experiences like that? After you’ve passed a crowd of hungry Indian children who get into a fistfight over the sandwich and apple you’ve given them from your lunch, do you look at your leftovers the same way when you’re back home? Or are you now someone new?

The clichés are true. When you study abroad, you do get a broader perspective, your life does change. You won’t look at your home the same way again when you return to it. You will gain memories you will never forget. And when someone on the street asks you “how was it?”, you’ll never be able to give them an answer that captures the whole thing no matter how hard you try.

If that gets your attention, study abroad.

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