Some Lessons I Have Learned While Living Abroad

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I have always liked traveling. Not only because it's a lot of fun, but also because it's an opportunity to learn more about a different culture. But soon I've realized that traveling to another country and living in it are two different things. While you travel, you cannot emerge yourself into a different culture and fully understand it. Besides, visiting tourist places are much more different than visiting suburbs of the country and talking to local people. Luckily, I've had a chance in my life and unforgettable experience of living abroad, which has given me a lot of valuable lessons.

Being originally from Ukraine, I got a Fulbright scholarship in 2009 to study art in the USA. I attended Texas Tech University, which is situated in Lubbock, Texas, USA. "Texas, what do I know about Texas?" I asked myself. My first associations were: cowboys on horses (Marlboro ad was pretty influential), cows, country music, guns... But at some point I decided to stop reading about Texas and wait till the moment I would arrive there. Although all my Ukrainian friends were screaming: "Oh, Texas, cowboys on horses", I was determined not to let stereotypes make my judgments or influence me in any other way.

I arrived in Lubbock, Texas, in August 2009. I have spent three years living and studying there and I've had a lot of different experiences. It was both exciting and scary. But now, when I look back at those times, I understand how much I've learned from that experience and how it helped me understand myself better. I will not go into every detail or every experience that I've had, but rather concentrate on the lessons I've learned while living in a foreign country.

One of the first lessons is that it's very difficult to get rid of stereotypes, even if you want to and think that you don't have any. No matter how hard I tried to get past stereotypes, it took me a lot of conscious efforts to do it. But it's really worth (or even necessary) making those efforts. I had to learn that not all Americans eat junk food, not all of them speak only English... And, thus, I learned not to generalize while talking about people.

Coming to Texas I was still expecting to see a lot of cowboys. And I did meet some, but I imagined them quite differently, like in movies. Well, I soon became aware that real cowboys were not actors. So, the second lesson is: never have any expectations, as they are often false and might even lead to disappointments.

The next thing I've understood is how much the environment shapes us. As an example, in Ukraine, it's considered very rude if somebody reports on somebody else's misconduct, especially at the university environment. I guess this is because in the former USSR people could easily get arrested and severely punished for even small misconduct. Besides, concepts of what is good or bad were quite distorted. So, when one student in the USA loudly pointed out that our group mate had missed two classes, I was very surprised and immediately put a stigma on him as being a bad person. It took some time to realize that, in fact, he wasn't. It's just a normal behavior in the USA. Citizens are more law-abiding and are taught to follow the rules and to say if somebody breaks them. Culture and environment influence our judgments a lot. And the lesson is: always look at the situation from different angles and be able to doubt your first reaction. It might be wrong.

The following lesson I've learned is that it's necessary to respect a different culture, even though at times it might be difficult to understand all its aspects. It's about learning to put oneself into somebody else's 'shoes'. You don't have to like something within a different culture, but learn to appreciate it. Never say: "It's so stupid". I don't like or understand baseball or American football, but I've learned to respect that sports tradition as it's part of the American culture.

And the main lesson I've had is that no matter to what culture we belong, we are all human beings with the same emotions; we are people who can love and hate, cry and laugh, have moments of sadness and incredible joy...