What Have We Learned?
Over the next few weeks, we will be preparing for our return. I am gathering all of my completed schoolwork and refreshing my mind on older material. We are cleaning, organizing, and getting everything else in order. It’s also time to ask ourselves the famous question for any young adult who spends so much time abroad: what have we learned?
I often hear students explain the “life-changing” experience of studying abroad. I hear others explain that it hasn’t taught them anything. As for me, there hasn’t been anything “life-changing”; but there has definitely been lessons that will guide me as I progress in life and in my career. I think the reason for this is the fact that I studied Anthropological Archaeology. As a student of anthropology, the lessons of cultural relativism are firmly etched into my mind. I already knew about other cultures and how to strive for objective perceptions. So the main lesson I learned involved the feeling of spending so much time away from home. I was considering applying for grad programs abroad (which last for about 2 years), but I realized how difficult it is for me to be away from my home country. I knew that I lived and breathed American culture, but I had no idea that I would miss it so much. So, I decided to apply only to graduate school programs in America (preferably the West Coast.)
Related to that is the fact that I never truly felt my American bias until now. Again, as a student of anthropology, I truly understand that (and how) I perceive everything through a culturally-constructed filter; but I never felt it in action. Strangely, I didn’t feel this during my 2 week trip to Italy a few years ago. It was only after settling and living here that I felt it at work. For example, Swedes are not as openly friendly as Americans. Most of the time, if you get bumped, they don’t say “I’m sorry” or “excuse me.” When you are shopping in most stores, the employees do not greet you; they don’t even help you unless you ask. At first, I was a little disappointed. I would think, “Do you not want me to buy your product?” or “you bumped into me, you’re excused.” I realized that Swedes take anti-social behavior (at which I am particularly adept) to a whole new level. (The fact that I was respectful and flexible during this trip goes without saying.) This was my American bias at work. There are many other examples and stories to help illustrate this point, but it would take far too long to type. 😉 I live and breathe “America.” My UCSD lessons were solidified through this experience.
This long trip has also put many other things into perspective. In a nutshell, it strengthened my feelings toward the people I hold close to me. One of my anthropology professors joked that the majority of anthropologists are misanthropes…I realized that I definitely fall into that category. 😉 My favorite archaeology professor joked that archaeologists are anti-social…again, I fall into that category, as well. Before my trip, I was neutral about my “anti-social” tendencies; but after this trip, I realized that there are positively good aspects to it. Call me an individualist. I choose to have certain people in my life, and I choose not to have others. My life is just that: my own. So what better way to live your life than to spend most of it with people who you truly and intensely love? 🙂 That is not to say that socializing with acquaintances is a chore; I mean only to say that I prefer time with loved ones over time with acquaintances, and I prefer to spend the majority of my life with those special people. I am happy to say that everyone close to me at this time is everyone I want close to me.
A lot of what Erin said is what I wanted to say too. You can’t quite understand how different cultures are from American culture, even in a western country. I don’t think even a vacation here would have taught me this, I had to live here to learn it. Lots of things during my time here made me feel that way. One simple example is when we went to Part City to buy our halloween costumes and I realized that the building that party city resides in is older than my entire country. America is not the center of the world. Of course I already knew that, but I didn’t really know it until this trip.