The world is not the same anymore, it has not only changed its values but also redefined common things in life that matter to us, like home and communication. We have more freedom than ever to do whatever we want, to discover our roles in this life, to break every single stereotype, and much more. We face a greater amount of opportunities that allow us to know the world, its people and issues better, and develop our power for achieving great things.
Nonetheless, despite being able to connect with the rest of the world through technology, narrow-mindedness and prejudice still exist in 2016. Traveling and living abroad serve as powerful weapons against what poisons our minds.
There is a study by Momondo that supports the idea that abroad experiences lead to open-mindedness, letting people have more positive attitudes towards other cultures and a better understanding of our differences.
Well, I have no doubt about that.
I left my country and felt more in control of my life than
ever before. I seemed to click a “reset” button, arrive in another country and experience everything again for the first time: first step, first meal, first decision, first friend, first everything. Having a fresh start makes you lose the sense of what normal really is, it gives you new eyes to look with, it allows you the freedom to define who you are, and it forces you to adapt to whatever comes up.
Although I am barely starting to rise and still deciding on my future, the lessons I’ve learned and the insights I’ve gathered are very valuable. They have helped and inspired me and many others.
And in a world full of struggles, possibilities, and uncertain destinations, we need to open our minds to what’s beyond from what our eyes can see. Here are some of the lessons and insights gathered that have helped me along the way:
You’ll start being capable of achieving anything you want once you start pretending you are
We all tend to automatically doubt ourselves when it comes to facing new challenges. We see successful people and let ourselves be intimidated and thinking we are not smart enough to be like them. We’re good at saying we aren’t good enough, we like to find excuses to why we can’t achieve what we want, and we feel like we are not able to achieve great things because we have no talent.
We are indeed our worst enemy.
But doubting ourselves doesn’t take us anywhere. I thought that making it to Germany was too hard and that I couldn’t do it. But then I came to a point where I said to myself: “Oh Andrea, cut the crap,” and worked for proving the latter a lie. And that is what everyone should do: prove ourselves wrong, when we think less of ourselves. We were given a brain to use its great potential, so let’s not to waste it by diminishing ourselves.
If it is hard to feel capable, then, as Amy Cuddy – a great social psychologist – once said on her inspiring Ted Talk: “fake it ’til you become it.” So fake you are a smart capable person, fake that you are talented, fake that you are creative, fake whatever you want and you will eventually believe it. I’ve followed that advice ever since I heard it and turned out to be very effective and fun as well.
So what are we waiting for?
You are not ahead neither behind, you are on time
Have you ever felt like you are behind in life when comparing yourself to others? Or felt like a failure because others have accomplished their goals earlier than you? That feeling of disappointment for not being ahead as we would wish happens surprisingly to almost everyone. However, as we grow old, life takes all of us to different directions and whatever we’ve gone through or not gone through is somehow meant to have happened that way.
I am 24 years old now and so are most of my friends, some of them are happily married and have kids, others are still doing their Bachelor’s, others are already done with their Master’s, and some have paused their careers to travel the world. It doesn’t matter if a friend has his own startup, if she is a successful young journalist, if he took a year from his career to volunteer, or if she has a second baby on the way. I started working when on my third year of college, then took a year off to go abroad and then finally completed my Bachelor’s last year; now I’m an au pair.
It doesn’t matter because there simply is no right order.
No one is too young or too old to be doing something, we are all free to do what we want, when we want, and the way we want. Why should we even follow the same process and the same order? We are all on our own road to being our successful selves, and success is subjective.
We don’t need to compare our timing with other people’s timing, because not every life, not every purpose and not every goal are the same. So don’t sweat over that, you’ll reach your peak when you’ll reach it, just keep improving yourself and doing what you already are doing.
You are doing just fine.
Where you are going is much more important than where you come from
“Home is not just the place where you happen to be born, it’s the place where you become yourself.” – Pico Iyer
Oxford dictionary defines home as “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.” Although that is not untrue, the real meaning is much more complex than that. Home is not necessarily a physical structure or even a permanent place. Home is where we find ourselves at best, it can travel thousands of kilometers, it is able to be in many places at the same time and can be different from one another. Home can simply be anywhere, not just the country in which we were born.
Many of us who plan to be long-term expats and come from developing countries can relate to that betrayal feeling of leaving our country behind. We go abroad with the idea to study and grow professionally and then to go back “home” to help your country. So we struggle to answer when we are asked: “why don’t you want to go back home?”
I’ve been trying to figure out an answer that won’t make me look careless of my country’s situation or as if I am trying to take advantage of a developed country’s system. So I asked myself first “where is my home at all?” Then I figured: Honduras because I was born and raised there; it is also Washington D.C. because I lived there for a year and had the best time of my life; but the most important home right now is Germany, where my heart is settled and where I have more chances to grow to become my better self and have a bright future, a future in which I would be able to actually do something for my country.
Ego and pride generate prejudice and narrow-mindedness
When you have contact with people from other cultures, it is unavoidable to notice how different our perspectives and actions are towards values, social encounters and more; it becomes interesting to see the various ways in which people can see one same thing.
However, it can also be a bit irritating and create some tensions, and here is where ego and prejudice like to come out and play. They cloud our minds and only let us understand and feel what we want instead of considering the views and perspectives of the other side.
I’ve been living with a German family for 11 months already, amazing people, but since we are from very different cultures and backgrounds, some of our habits and ways of thinking disagreed; so normally, tensions arise. In situations like these, it is normal to at first feel criticized, misunderstood, or less valued (and probably also does the other side), yet, these assumptions are usually far from reality and it’s important to recognize that. Not every encounter with people from different cultures is going to be perfect, however, that doesn’t decrease the value of the relationships.
So from my overall experience abroad, I recognized that by letting ourselves be controlled by some feelings that we would later consider stupid, is not worth missing out on enjoying great experiences and good moments with wonderful people.
Pride and ego are, after all, are conductors of a weak attitude, and who wants to have that, anyway?
Getting out of the bubble: cultural diversity is the real beauty of humanity
It has always been clear that there are numerous cultures in the world, with their own languages, traditions, views and beliefs. We were taught in school, for example, about the different religions and traditions that exist and how different all of them are from ours. We were taught to respect them, but we were apparently not taught enough to remember that.
It is sad to know how much hate, racism, and sexism still exist in these times, it is scary how dark our hearts can be and how closed our minds can stay. Many live in their own bubbles and are deeply stuck in them – by choice – and by doing that they limit their ability for understanding and respecting what is different from them. Getting out of that bubble is the best effort everyone can take for the sake of a better world.
I feel privileged to have been able to observe and feel amazement towards the different ways people can show respect, love, gratefulness, solidarity, empathy, and more, and how far they are willing to go to show them. It is even astonishing how by starting to notice details from other cultures I also noticed details from my own that I didn’t recognize before. My appreciation for my country and for people overall grew immensely, and that has permitted me to live life with interest and motivation in knowing this world better.
Getting out of the bubble, breaking the crystal cube, or whatever we want to call it, is only the first step to being able to experience the greatness this world has to offer. We can expose ourselves to amazing experiences, meet inspiring people and learn more lessons like these.
So one last thing: no, we don’t need to travel all over the world, but to be willing to learn and accept life’s diversity. Seeing the world with an open mind is the only way we can see the true beauty of humanity.
It all sounds corny, I know. But hey, what is life without corny?