So it has come to my attention that my previous post, “A Post-Travel Identity Crisis (Study Abroad reflections pt. 4)” was terribly written as far as my blog posts go…and meanders quite a bit without having much of a point. This post is an attempt to rectify that.
Bottom line is, studying abroad and living abroad for a long time when you’ve grown up in the same place all your life makes you question who you are. I have a close friend who was born in Europe but grew up in Canada and then went on exchange in Europe again only to question whether she was truly North American or actually European.
I have it a little easier—I was born and grown in Canada so I’m comfortable saying I’m 100% Canadian. Although my folks are from Hong Kong and I am not the expected white Canadian most non-Canadians imagine Canucks to be, I still identify as an overly-apologetic mickey-drinking tuque-wearing cold-loving Canuck. I loved my time in England and may even move there someday, but to be honest I’d never call myself “British.” (If you want to read more about my identity as a Canadian child of immigrants, read my Children of Immigrants series).
More than who you are culturally though, I think my post-exchange identity crisis can be summed up by the following points:
- Being in a foreign place motivates you to get out of your comfort zone and accomplish more. Whether this be out of fear or out of excitement I have no idea. But I was not alone. Many people abroad with me felt braver, more sociable, more welcome to risk than they did at home. You realize you’re capable of much more.
- There’s a sense of disillusionment when you get home and you no longer have this motivation. I think it’s because home gives you a sense of satisfaction and safety that you subconsciously don’t want to ruin. I wrote a post on this regard on how I miss being the person I was when I was on exchange.
- You think you’ve seen all types of people, but abroad you will meet even more people and get to know their stories with an intimacy and an understanding you never expected. And this is humbling and perhaps the one of the most rewarding experiences you can get while on exchange. You get to submerge yourself in a culture and see it from the inside, see how it really ticks. And that challenges you to question your preconceived values and beliefs, about other people and yourself.
- Seeing all these possibilities, you start to wonder if you’re that complete after all. Before exchange, I had a pretty good idea of who I was. I am yea tall, have this colour hair and that colour eyes, am interested in such-and-such hobbies etc. Coming home, I’m not that sure anymore. After experiencing #3 and just meeting tons of people, I feel inspired to emulate admirable traits I’ve found in others I haven’t known existed before. And then I’ll have to figure out if I can even pull that off…
- I’m having a bit of a quarter-life crisis. This is more personal, as I never moved away from home and lived in a dorm for university like the stereotypical college experience. (I live at home and can commute to campus in 10 minutes.) I had a taste of “stereotypical college experience” living in a dorm abroad, and it brought to light exactly how much I missed out, and how much I could have grown, potentially, if I had had that experience. What kind of person would I be now if I’d taken that route? Would I be much different? More mature? Less? It depresses me a little, knowing I can never go back and do a first year as a wide-eyed 18 year-old again. But it’s no use dwelling on the what-may-have-been; rather, we must use look at the what-may-come.
Yeah, I’m a bit of a late bloomer, and honestly, I think I’m hitting a “turning point” in my life right now after this exchange adventure. I’ve been doing a lot of questioning, introspective thinking, philosophical musing…that sort of thing. This further drives my point that studying abroad is not about finding yourself. Rather, to find ourselves, perhaps we must lose ourselves first. And only gather up the pieces that truly matter, the pieces we really want and need.