What Studying Abroad Has Taught Me About…
The nature of friendship is inherently transitory. When you look back on your life, at your elementary, middle school, high school, and college friends, you see how you’ve changed through the lens of the different people who have blessed your life. Some stay, and others move in other directions, but I am forever grateful for each and every person that has made me who I am today. I would argue that due to studying abroad, I have grown even more between sophomore and junior year than between freshman and sophomore year. This is because of the wide range and diversity of friendships I have made here, in combination with my continued relationships with my loved ones at home who keep me grounded.
I have made some good friends within my study abroad program, and I’m sad to think that I’ll be leaving them very soon. Much like the difference between your first week of freshman year out of state and your last, your social circle expands and even changes greatly when you’re thrown into the middle of a completely new city with strangers. I am proud of all the effort I have put in over the course of the semester into meeting new people, right up into my final weeks in Amman. Although making new friends just weeks before I leave the country is bittersweet, it enriches my experience every day. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard or said “I wish we had met earlier” when I tell someone that I’ll be leaving in just a couple of weeks. This applies especially to my Jordanian friends.
In the second half of the semester as I became more comfortable speaking the language and navigating the city, I went out of my way to meet and spend time with Jordanians my age. I can’t stress enough how important this is, and how much I wish I would have focused on this earlier. I’m lucky to call some of the most wonderful and interesting people I’ve ever met friends, and they’ve taught me more about the diversity of people and cultures in Amman than I could have hoped to learn without them. My proficiency in the language has also increased greatly. I’m at the point where I’m planning my days by the minute to maximize the time I get to spend with each one of them, including my American friends, while still somehow managing to study and complete my final papers. I know I’ll be back in Amman someday, and I plan on keeping in contact with them after I leave.
I wouldn’t say I’m homesick. I do miss the people that are close to me: my close friends and family, the people that go out of their way to talk to me everyday despite the nine hour time difference. But I think that in order to assimilate, it’s necessary to accept that this, where you are, is your home, at least for the semester. When I see on social media pictures and videos of places, people, and traditions I’m familiar with, I don’t feel FOMO or jealousy. It’s more like nostalgia. Nostalgia for the parties, the football games, bacon & rice and spice, and even work.
My biggest concern about studying abroad prior to my departure was actually what would happen when I got back. I’d heard about the post study-abroad depression, about the struggle of readjustment. I was worried that I wouldn’t be in anyone’s routine anymore. I was worried that, while everyone else had progressed their social life, I’d pick up right where I left off, with expired perspectives.
I don’t worry about that anymore. Not because I don’t think there’s a possibility of those issues, but because their relative value has decreased in my eyes. The culture of Ole Miss is extremely social, and I had spent my freshman and sophomore placing more value on the social aspect of my college experience than anything else. In that same breath, it was also the biggest factor in my evaluation of my identity.
People say that studying abroad changes you. I think that’s a little melodramatic. I won’t come back a different person, or any better than anyone else. However, it does shift your perspective. In a way, I think it prepares you for graduating. You wake up, not at home, or in your college town. You wake up, not thinking about anyone but yourself. What you have to do today. What you have to study, how you’re going to budget. I wake up in my apartment alone, and the views and sound from my window remind me where I am, and my first thought is always about why I am there in the first place.
This is the first semester of my college experience where all of the classes I am taking relate directly to my major. When I’m studying, I’m actually learning material that is completely necessary for me to retain. I’m on the last leg of my college experience, and my priorities are shifting. Stepping out of the social scene I have been accustomed to for the past two years and living on my own in a foreign country has heightened my awareness of that fact, and expedited that process.
I am in no way over or above the football games, the parties, and the absolutely incredible social scene that Ole Miss has to offer. On the contrary, I appreciate them more now. I appreciate them more because I’m beginning to accept that college isn’t forever. I appreciate my friends more. I ask them about their day and how they’re feeling more than I did before.
This is not all to say that independence is the only measure of maturity. Maturity is measured by your ability to accept that just because you can’t understand something, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, or bad. When you acknowledge that you can’t understand every person and every situation, you have to acknowledge that you can’t control them either. There’s nothing quite like a language barrier and a completely different culture to drive that point in. So I’m beginning to embrace the confusion, the frustration, the struggle in learning the language. Being a guest in another culture, I confront the fact that not everything is about me. I need the humility. I have a lot of growing up to do, and I’ll be forever grateful for this experience for expediting that process.