"I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world."
--Mary Anne Radmacher
I recently had a class assignment in which I was asked if I was the same person I was before I studied abroad. It confused me a bit, because I don't see how anyone could be unchanged after spending time immersed in another culture. I spent a semester in China, and it was incredible and difficult and scary and the best thing I have ever done.
It's been exactly a year since I arrived in China, and I can definitively say I am not the same. Sure, I'm back in the States now, and have basically picked up where I left off, but it's not the same. Something has changed; I've changed, even though it's hard to pinpoint how exactly.
Being in another country, surrounded by a culture that's not your own, one that feels foreign, one that's hard to understand, changes you. It changes the way you see things; there's no longer just one way of doing something. Not everyone eats pancakes for breakfast. Not everyone lives in a country where Christianity is considered the norm.
It changes the way you think about things. Not everyone thinks the same way you do, or feels the same way you do about things. Not everyone thinks communism is equivalent with Satan. Not everyone has the ability to say what they want, whenever they want. Not everyone has the same freedoms you have.
Studying abroad changes your perspective. It frees you from the bindings of a narrow life lived in a single place and allows you to see beyond the barriers of culture to other ways of being.
We take a lot for granted. We think we do things the right way, maybe the only way. That's not realistic, and it's just not true. The world has billions of people, and the majority of them do any number of things quite differently than you. They have different beliefs, different dreams, different priorities. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's actually an amazing thing. There are so many ways to be human, to be alive, and to do it well.
Studying abroad allows you to experience another facet of the potential of humanity, and I think that's how I've changed. I've gotten a small taste of how little I know, and I've been infected with a desire to learn as much as I can about cultures different than my own.
In short, I'm not the same since I studied abroad. I've changed for the better.