A Post-Travel Identity Crisis (Study Abroad reflections pt.4)

How much are we a product of our influences and our heroes, the social groups we belong to, and the social groups we want to belong to? I hope I find some camaraderie through this post. It’s a bit of a meandering post and ends in a thing about youth, but anyway, enjoy my thought dump.

Cromer Lighthouse

After the hike up to Cromer Lighthouse. (PC: M. Pluskota)

Truthfully, this post doesn’t have much to do with the studying abroad series I’ve been writing the last while, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot since I’ve gotten back.

You must hear all the time that travelling opens up your perspectives. I’m tired of repeating this cliche, but it really does. Seeing different places and faces lets you appreciate the diversity of people out there. For example, I live in an immigrant-heavy coastal city where practically everyone I know has been on a plane and a different country because they were probably not born in this country. However, while abroad, I learned (quite surprisingly) that for many of my fellow-study-abroaders, this was the first time they’d ever gotten on a plane, went to a different country, or had their passport photos taken.

And the more people you meet, the more lifestyles you encounter that are different from your own, the more you start to question who you are.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on the things I do and why I do them. I do things because I enjoy them…right? Or do I do things because the people in my immediate surroundings are doing them. Even worse, do I do things to fit in, to look good in front of a person/people I’d like to accept me?

Thinking like this makes me scared, because to be honest, I do take part in certain activities to appear a certain way or please a certain group/person. I think we all do. It’s how we get validation and a sense of belonging, to an extent.

(Generalizing immensely), I feel that most groups of young people are either very sociable and outgoing individuals that prefer activities like going to parties, or more introverted individuals who prefer a quiet night of conversation with intimate friends.

In my experience, it feels like you either have to belong to one or the other, but not both.  And having dipped in both types of these groups, there is definitely a stigma both types have against the other. People who like to party tend to see people who don’t as nerdy and boring, and wonder what the fun is in that. People who prefer staying in see people who party as unproductive time wasters not doing their livers a service, and wonder what the fun is in that.

I hope I’m not alone in admitting that, depending on my mood, I like both—to an extent. This became especially clear during studying abroad because I had more opportunity to spontaneously go out. At home, going out is something laborious that I kind of dread, and last year I would have considered myself a quiet and stay-at-home person. But while in the midst of random dorm parties in England, I’d think to myself, “Hey, this really isn’t all that bad.”

On some days I’d want to let loose and go to a loud place, talk loudly, and enjoy a highball. On other days I’d rather snuggle up with a few close friends and watch a movie with a hot drink. And that’s where my identity crisis lies—in each of these spheres, I feel, well, incomplete. In the first scenario, I feel that I lack an important sort of social intimacy, the kind you can’t get at a loud club. In the second scenario, I have a restlessness that I should be doing something more than just sitting around.

Am I supposed to pick one social-culture and commit to it, or find a social-culture exactly like myself? If it’s the latter, I haven’t found a group like this yet. I feel like a floater, floating between personalities, floating between spaces where I feel comfort in one moment and discomfort the next.

I don’t know how to answer my question. Maybe I have to do the thing where I hike out into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights and get to know myself. Or maybe, as I’ve disclaimed, I’m making massive generalizations that are uncalled for, perceiving people as more polarized than they actually are. But a lot of social interaction has to do with perception, right? And this is what I (perhaps in a skewed way) perceive: a general sense of un-belonging, of something-missing-ness amongst other humans—and consequential identity crises.

Like I said in a previous post, I felt like a different person on exchange, willing to take on more things than I usually do. Now that I’m home, am I still that person? Honestly, I’m not sure.

Or maybe people are fluid. We change by the day and by the decade, and between the hours of the day we adapt our behaviours accordingly.

Or maybe I’m just growing up and changing and finding my niche. Just a year ago I was definitely not the person I am now. Just a year ago I expected to stay in Vancouver for the rest of my life, get a career here, and eventually earn enough to buy a house maybe. Now, in February 2016, after coming back from exchange, I want to live in a variety of places. I’m thinking of moving to Scotland for a year or two. I’m thinking of doing more travelling after that. I’m thinking of doing more physical things, whether that be outdoor adventuring or working in a forest doing manual labour. I’m thinking of becoming a barista and meeting a hundred different people each day.

When I was in England—probably due to living with a dorm of eager students several years younger than myself—I was reminded of the newness and wonder of being young. Having been in university for some years now, I’ve started to move away from youthful idealism towards a more adult-like seriousness when thinking about life. But while I was having adventures in England, watching my first-year roommates move out for the first time, seeing the excitement and anticipation in their eyes, I thought: “Hey, youth doesn’t have to be over. I’m still only 21. I’m allowed to make mistakes, explore, and discover who I really am.”

And I don’t think we should stop doing that. Ever.


4 thoughts on “A Post-Travel Identity Crisis (Study Abroad reflections pt.4)

  1. Pingback: Post-Travel Identity Crisis Follow-up Post (Study Abroad reflections pt.4.5) | breakfast with words

  2. Questioning your identity can be existentially painful even if it is also fun. That pain/fun does last a lifetime, it seems.
    Can I just help you resolve one generalization that might make you feel torn? There is no polarized extrovert/introvert spheres of socializing; that is a generalization that I feel is rooted more in culture/representation/stereotypes than in reality. Neither ‘group’ judges the other; we’re all insecure about our positions in society and envy those different from us. We’re just who we are, and no one is secure about that. As soon as we’re okay with it, we’ll seek people who are also comfortable with different minds. I never really realized how it might be weird for me to quiet and decide to hang out at the back because something’s captured my attention; the talkers of the group would just talk amongst themselves until I rejoined them. For me, that lack of awareness is my blessing, but I also think it can be learned, if it makes one uncomfortable to hang around extroverted people who expect convo 24/7. The best things result from when introverts and extroverts add their different ideas about the same situation (that can make you feel ‘whole/bigger’). Food for thought: everyone’s ideas about the people around them arise from their unique situation. What is your unique situation? How might that affect your perception (think positive influences; never blame yourself for missed opportunities)?
    Perceived sensitivity to people’s judgement/more introversion than comfortable->embracing weakness anyways (altering of situation)->leads to realization (I love hanging out with artistic people and feel comfortable)->perceived weakness is not a weakness
    Sometimes, when even that isn’t enough, more exploration is needed. If it feels like something you fundamentally cannot change, it warrants more self exploration than “isolating yourself for 40 days”. Just isolate the feeling. For me, that feeling was extroversion coupled with an unchangeable fear towards flirting. I asked everyone if they felt that way, and googled what it might be, and felt weird until I found out there was such thing as demisexuality. Where before I felt like I belonged to no spheres, I now belonged to one, no 40 day journey needed. Similarly, is OK to be sometimes introverted and extroverted, and it can also be a result of underlying unchangeable things with names. People will always accept you for who you are. They probably don’t notice how pronounced that difference feels like it is within you.

    When you put “generalizing immensely” you already know that you’re on the brink of some new knowledge. Have lots of fruitful long sessions thinking about yourself but put no pressure on yourself to fit yourself into any box!


    • I think the problem is that the generalizations/stereotypes you speak of are so embedded in people (myself included) that everyone kind of subconsciously labels people as one or the other, us vs. them. So we don’t take time to get to know people from other groups and hence we judge them. But we don’t think of it as judging because we say/feel things about these people out of a fear for them so it feels more like a defence mechanism than an aggressive judging mechanism.

      But I think this judging exists. It’s only when you dip your foot into different groups of people then you realize the complexity of such groups. You see similarities between you and whoever your’e experimenting with, but also great differences. And that’s when the identity-questioning occurs, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re right. We all just judge in different ways, and it’s insightful that you point it out. The way we judge, I suppose, defines us. Or maybe we shouldn’t let it define us?
        Navigating our identities is tricky business. I think about this stuff a lot 😉


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