An exchange semester is a dream for many and it’s for that reason I was the happiest because I was living all my fantasies. Though with each new experience, I had a lesson in life. Without further ado, here’re what a semester in the U.S. has taught me:
I May Not Understand Something, but I Learned to Accept
Just because I don’t understand something does not mean it is bad or wrong. As a girl coming from a place where everyone looks, thinks, and acts in a certain way, the USA had a lesson to teach me: no matter what a person is – Republican, Democrat, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon, Atheist, white, black, Asian, straight or gay – America is a home for all. These are examples of what I learned to accept in the USA. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily indicate a “for,” “against,” or even a “neutral” position about how things are. Acceptance is simply the ability to see things for what they really are, be relaxed and happy, and minimize any anger about what can’t be changed.
The Art of Saying No
Believe me when I say, when you’re an exchange student, you’ll not just have one activity to do for the day but tons and tons. I can’t even remember the number of times I had been invited to three or four parties on the same day, and I went to them all. I still remember talking about this with my host family and they told me it’s called FOMO – the fear of missing out. My motto was “I only have four months here, I don’t want to miss out on anything interesting.” It was only two months after I started living in the U.S. when I realized that I needed to start saying ‘no’ to more invitations and ‘yes’ to relaxation. The path to feeling peaceful is hard at first, it was hard to learn say ‘no,’ since it’s not a fun task to disappoint the person I was saying ‘no’ to. But I learned that people are understanding if I am being open about my reasons.
Appreciate What I Have
Every time I was missing something from back home, I recorded a video of myself acknowledging that thing. Looking back at those videos, I am shocked by the little things I learned to appreciate. It’s easy to forget about all that I have when those things are readily available. However, living alone, in a different country, away from my family and people changed that about me.
It’s O.K to be Emotional
I have always been one of these people who fights against their emotions because they don’t want to feel the full spectrum of emotions that come with being a human. I was always trying to act stronger than I actually am. But a semester in the U.S. taught me that there’s no meaning if life won’t bring me sorrow sometimes. I need to let those emotions come as they are and not fight against them. Being able to express my emotions doesn’t make me any less strong, it’s completely the opposite. It actually means I am strong enough to understand and acknowledge what I feel.
Spend Less Money on Buying Stuff, and More on Traveling
Travel is the best thing money can buy, travel unlocks the world. Some things are hard to understand until I am physically there. I learned to live for the current moment, the only moment that truly matters. Spending money experiencing what the big wide world has to offer. The pleasure devoted to preparing, booking, and commencing on a trip with no idea what to expect is unparalleled to the slight rush of paying for a new mobile or another item of clothing.
Live and Let Live
Whenever I went to ask for something at the next dorm, there was an angry lady who screamed at everything. I later learned that she lives in a really bad situation. It touched and inspired me to start putting myself in other people’s shoes instead of jumping to fast conclusions about them. People have bad days – to be more realistic, some have really bad lives. People have enough problems in their lives, and I learned to not be another one. Talking to more and more strangers, I started taking things less personally. Part of being open minded is to create a peaceful state of mind about what is happening instead of constantly fighting to change things. It’s something I do for my own peace of mind now.
Brag Without Bragging
I believe action speaks louder than words, but that wasn’t the case when I was meeting people for the first time. I used to feel so uncomfortable talking about my accomplishments whenever someone asked me what I did in my life. Most of the time, I found a way to get away with no answer so I didn’t sound like a jerk. The truth is, these people never knew what I did in my life, and others will never know too. Having met successful people from around the globe, only those who revealed their true selves and broke through superficial small talk could make real connections with me. They taught me that the secret for a memorable introduction of myself is done through being sincerely grateful for my own successes.
Fear Should Never be the Driver of a Decision
America is a place where people have dreams. They still do today, despite everything. My teacher Tony has been an English teacher for foreign students for all his life, yet he decided to shift his career and start being a software engineer. The story of Tony and many other Americans shifting their careers inspires me a lot to not let fear stand in my way. I need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I need to be willing to do things I think are best for me. Fear should not paralyze me into not making a decision anymore. Looking back at my life I realize that the things I was the most afraid to do turned out to be the things that catapulted me to a next level and made me the happiest. I was scared to move to another country, not knowing a soul in my destination city. But I learned to not be afraid, so I took the jump and it was once again one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
No Point in Being Passive Aggressive
Another lesson I learned while living with an American roommate is that I haven’t been raised to be direct and tell others: “Excuse me, you’re annoying me with your loud music or by slamming the door.” Instead I was doing what the Palestinian knows, what to me is considered polite, which is letting her notice how I do things differently, though she didn’t even pay any attention. It was only when I finally decided to open up and communicate directly about my needs that she changed. This is when I learned to be more straight to the point, telling what I want. It saves time and a lot of misunderstandings.
The USA not only fundamentally challenged core beliefs I had, but also opened new worlds and accelerated personal growth beyond what I thought possible. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that I am different in different environments. Which one is the real me? I am afraid if you put me in another place, you’ll find more “me’s” inside of me. Part of knowing who I am is knowing that I have an adaptable personality. The questions remain ‘what’s the best version of me?’ and ‘where’s the best suited environment?’ A lot has changed, but my goal is pretty much the same. I hope at the end of each year, I will reflect and say this has been the greatest year of my life.
Written by Masa Abdalhalim, 2018-19 Global UGRAD student from the Palestinian Territories studying at the University of Arkansas