I am going to bed tonight and I’m so mind blown by what the world I live in. Like this is me right now:
Let me tell you a story. In fifth grade, I made friends with this super weird guy who for some reason, decided to talk to the lonely girl on the playground. He had more wanderlust than I knew how to handle, but soon enough we became best friends and spent the majority of our time wondering what it would be like to live… well, anywhere but where we were. What if we lived in the city??? It would be so great there! Where do our families come from? What if we went back there? We will travel the world together some day. For now, let’s build our own Terabithia.
So we did.
And together, we wandered to worlds so unknown, they didn’t even exist. It was a magic only young imaginations can create.
As we grew up, we began to make real plans together. We were going to spend a summer in Europe. We were going to spend a weekend in Omaha, Nebraska. We were going to road trip and see where we ran out of gas.
Well, fast forward to the present and that guy has continued to learn far more about the world than I ever will. He is so knowledgable about world politics and foreign culture and, never leaving his home, he’s made more friends all over the world than I can believe. And I am so proud of him. I know he has so many journeys ahead of him. He is going to catch hold of a shooting star and fly far, far away, even farther than he can believe. He inspires me to learn more and more.
While he’s been off paving the way to his own global adventure, I’ve been here. And it’s just now starting to sink in exactly what I’ve done to myself.
Studying abroad is painted as this experience where you are thrown into the clutches of a new culture, lost and isolated and amazed by everything that whatever the country is represents. You will spend a semester or a year learning everything there is to know about being an *insert whatever country-an here* – A Greek, a Finn, a German, a Brit, a South African, an Australian, a Korean, a Peruvian, a Ugandan. It will be scary because you will be the only one who’s different. But the fear will pave the way to assimilation so when you come home, you no longer are American, but a member of both cultures.
Well, let me tell you, that was my expectation. However, I have met more people than I can count since I’ve arrived here and only seven of them are Finns. Neglecting the professors and advisors at the school I’ve crossed path with, I’ve only interacted enough to build relationships with seven Finns. Yes, I am in Finland. Yes, I’ve met Finns. Yes, I’m learning bits of Finnish. Yes, I am reading Finnish road signs, and the grocery store is in Finnish, and all the stores are Finnish. But my exposure to the world has been so much more than Finnish. In fact, it is even so much more than European. And I am in love.
I am going to keep a page in my journal of all of the countries represented by the people I meet here. So far, I have Finland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, (I’m pulling out a map now to help me recall them all) Italy, Czech Republic, Latvia, Poland, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Chile, and Canada. Also, a couple other Americans. That’s 18 countries.
My point is, studying abroad is an experience that people from all over the world participate in. And I can’t speak for everyone, but as for myself, I never considered how much more broad of an understanding I would gain of the world in my experience at a foreign university. I expected to learn to be a citizen of Finland, not a citizen of Earth.
The girl I was in fifth grade and even later, inspired by her best friend, wondered what it’d be like to travel outside the boarders of my own country. I have discovered in these last two weeks that it doesn’t have to take traveling to every place to get a sense of everywhere. When it comes down to it, so much is similar no matter what place you are in. Everyone loves to drink and party. Everyone is on some level a social being. Everyone has a deep seeded longing to learn (even if the motivation to learn varies person to person).
When it all comes down to it, our borders only define us as much as we let them. We are all human. One of the presenters said during our orientation, “where you come from should be the least relevant thing about you.” At first I was like “yeah, sure, whatever. Of course, because there’s more to people than the stereotypes we associate with their country blah blah blah.” But, the more I interact with these people, the more I understand that sure, I’m meeting people from all over the world and that’s awesome, but more than that, I’m meeting The People of the World. It’s hard to put into words how amazing that realization is.
In the last two weeks, I’ve been surrounded by languages not my own, some I’d never even heard before. In the last two weeks, I’ve attended classes about global issues in education full of students that cared equally from every corner of the world. I’ve laughed with people and come to love people from so many different backgrounds and I am so happy I made the decision to study abroad. I always imagined that the United States of America was a big place. But now I don’t live in America, I live in The World. The World is a big place. And the people in it are so vibrant, and full of love. I wish more people could experience this. And I am so excited to see how far this semester takes me.
I naively chose to go on this journey to learn about Finnish education and see the northern lights. That was my expectation. Already, I have learned little about Finnish education, I care less (but not much less!) about seeing the norther lights, and I am so fulfilled by simply being in such a diverse space. I want to drink it all in. I want to love this place. I do love this place.
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal Nehru