One of the parts of study abroad that people always hype up and discuss is the trans formative quality of the experience. It is expected that in your time abroad you will be transformed, whether it be by culture exposure, independence, or academic achievement. There is some quality about study abroad that is pushing you to your limits and allowing you to become transformed by the experience.
The first time I heard this in relation to an advertised event on trans formative experiences, my philosophy professor asked, “If you are anticipating transformation, is it truly an organic transformation? Or is it self-induced?” Bearing this thought in mind I considered whether or not I would be transformed by anything here and told myself not to expect anything in hopes that all forms of transformation would be organic. I told myself not to focus too much on ways in which I am changing, or my views are being challenged.
However, as I reflect comprehensively on my experience here, I begin to think about the varying factors that have led me to where I am, that is being transformed as right now.
We tend to think that cultural clash occurs between individuals and the host country. However, when you are studying abroad, one of the biggest forms of culture class that I have experienced is between myself and my fellow American students. The reality of being an American is that though we are all from the same country or similar backgrounds, our understandings of reality are vastly different due to our social locations prior to attending this study abroad trip.
This cultural clash isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It provides opportunity for growth and introspection on what we know to be “true” and “real”.
The cultural clash that occurs within the host country has led me to analyze my actions and capabilities as a social creature. Learning a language is difficult, but speaking it can become especially difficult if you aren’t someone who is talkative in your native language? (At least not talkative with strangers ?)
Academic Environmental Shift
It only occurred to me that I have become comfortable in my patterns of course work now that my patterns were no longer working. I identified that the course here would be much shorter and therefore I couldn’t afford to waste time being silent. However, the semester is complete and I did in fact spend most of the semester sitting in silence observing.
The lesson that I have learned from this experience is that a familiar academic environment can influence your actions. I am accustomed to Virginia Wesleyan University and I trust myself that the familiarity will breed some level of comfort to eventually speak in class when I’m ready. The classes are pretty small, so any intimidation that I may feel about speaking up eventually dissipates. To some degree I can almost anticipate what my classmates are saying, and I am able to prepare response. This lack of familiarity in this environment of learning has taught me that I may need to spend more time studying and preparing my brain to ask questions and deeply analyze information that I receive. It has pulled me out of what could possibly be a lackadaisical attitude regarding education that has developed due to being comfortable with what is familiar.
With information at our fingertips, seeking information regarding anything and almost anyone can be done without ever truly experiencing that thing or person. But, when you are trying to understand and pinpoint an identity, that is best done through experience, and direct inquiry. Living in Jordan, or any other country, a small part of your brain is dedicated to classifying and identifying the place you are in and the people around you. Simply for deeper understanding and future explanation to others. While studying abroad there is a constant question of identity: the country, the people, the students and myself.
I am a person who analyses other people for fun and precaution. I observe actions and interactions of people and ask questions (on occasion) and draw conclusions. Studying abroad brings about the opportunity to ask those same questions of oneself. In doing so it has allowed me to question a few things:
Who am I? What do I stand for? What do I value? What do I enjoy? What do I believe?
Who do I want to be? What do I want to leave behind? How can I help make this world better? What do I live for?
Where I am in life? (academically, socially, spiritually)
What do I want in life? (academically, socially, spiritually)
What does this mean for me right here and right now? For the future?
The answers to these questions are subject to change, but identifying them in a space at which you are bombarded by an entirely new cultural identity, and the identities of different students makes for a helpful or stressful moment of introspection.