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What my international experiences gave me – a personal look

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In my previous article (you can find it HERE) I shared some benefits that I see in having international experiences. While all of those apply to me as well, this time I wanted to share more of my personal experience.

Here are just a few things that working, studying and living “international” gave me.

More confidence and feeling independent

I definitely wouldn’t say that I didn’t feel independent at all before going on Erasmus student exchange for the first time – I already moved away from my hometown way before just to go to university, so I was used to managing my life mostly on my own. However, it really cannot compare to going to live abroad. I was worried about a lot of things before I went. Having to deal with a completely new environment, different teaching styles, overcoming cultural shock and language barrier, making new friends etc. – it’s a lot to process and it can be a big challenge. Especially so, if you’re a person prone to anxiety, like me. The feeling of being able to pull through despite all that is wonderful and truly rewarding. It gave me a huge boost of confidence that I don’t think I would gain otherwise. Now I know I can manage much more than I thought before, overcome many of my fears and weaknesses and live a bit of a happier life overall.

New appreciation for my own culture

In the past, I haven’t thought of myself as particularly attached to my country and my culture. When I was a teenager I was really excited about the possibility of living abroad – permanently. It really changed a lot for me, I think partially just with age and partially thanks to my international experiences. Spending time with people from different countries allowed me to observe multiple similarities and differences between us, pushed me to explore my culture more deeply and helped me appreciate some even very small elements of it. Through that I developed a stronger connection to my country and started to feel that my nationality is an important part of my identity. Now I really love sharing information about Polish traditions, food, history and language with others and can often speak about those things with pride.

So even with the newly found confidence, when I know I could manage living in another country if I wanted to… I don’t think I actually want that, at least not as a permanent situation. In the end, Poland even with all its flaws (I never said I started to believe my country is perfect!), feels like home and like a place where I belong.

A goofy photo of me during an international dinner hosted by my ESN section

Getting out of my social bubble

Naturally, going abroad or just meeting people who come from different countries and cultures gets you exposed to new points of view – that is to be expected with every international experience. However, for a long time, I haven’t realized how much I fell in a very specific social bubble. What I mean specifically is that I studied at a specialized university – University of Economics and Business. And because I moved to a different city to study by myself and I also didn’t have any specific after-school social hobbies, I ended up spending almost all of my time with people only from my university. Going on an Erasmus exchange to a bigger institution (like University of Zagreb), however, allowed me to hang out more with people from different study programmes, with various backgrounds and life paths. This really led me to understand how many similarities I shared with the people I studied with and how it closed me from different points of view on certain topics, even those held by people from my own country (even city), of similar age to me etc. It has been a very valuable learning experience and made me more conscious of the variety of people’s perspectives.

I know it might sound silly and not apply to you at all in the same way it did to me, but I think it is still a valid point – maybe like me, you never really considered it before?

Conversation starters… for hundreds of conversations

I don’t know about you, but for me starting conversations with people I don’t know well and finding enough topics to keep the conversation going can be challenging a lot of the time. Having international experiences can help with that, simply because a lot of people consider that at least a little interesting and there is no way you can get through them without having some good stories to tell! Also, to be honest, I really love talking about my little adventures, sharing the experience and spreading the love for living internationally, encouraging others to try it. Well, perhaps the people I talk to get sick of the constant “oh, when I was on Erasmus…” or “you know, in ESN we…” stories – but they just never told me!

I hope that some of you reading could find a little piece of yourselves in my thoughts and that I convinced you a little more that you can benefit from getting some kind of international experience – be it studying, working or volunteering abroad, getting involved with the international community in your city, consciously travelling or anything else you can think of. And if you’ve been convinced already – spread the word!

Kornelia Makowska

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