It’s been a while, I know, and realistically speaking I’ve done plenty of things in the past month worth writing about (there was a school trip to Åland, my basketball team actually won a game and just general explorations of new places). However I’ve never been good at writing about events, even in primary school recounts weren’t exactly my ‘thing’, so I’ve held off writing until I found greater inspiration, a point to make within my text. I’m really into the big underlying messages within texts and so I guess I’ve been waiting to figure out how I can write about what has happened in a way that allows me plenty if time to philosophise about life and pretend to be wise. Needless to say, as you’re reading this, I figured it out.
One of the biggest selling points of exchange, and something I’ve definitely mentioned before, is the fact you’ll change as a person. This is one of of those phrases that seems all shiny and might as well be put up in flashing lights inside people’s heads. It’s funny, isn’t it? Most people are relatively satisfied with who they are yet the idea of changing themselves is also something nearly every person finds appealing. The idea that a person can change and, furthermore, that this change can be induced by moving to a different country, proves, in my opinion, that nurture (or in this case environment and environmental factors) effects who we are more than our random chemical make ups that give us our nature. Anyway, the point I’m gradually getting to is how about how I’ve experienced myself change throughout my exchange. I think it is worth noting, before I fully launch into this blog, that these changes could have occurred ages ago but I’m only noticing them now. (I should also apologise both in retrospect and in advance for my overuse of commas – I have a very unique and interesting way of using this particular grammatical article that probably isn’t completely correct).
I’ll start with a change I noticed whilst on my school trip. A little bit of background information for you: the trip was part of an international co-operation project that involved three schools from Sweden, Finland and, of course, Norway. The Swedish and Norwegian students spent a week on the Finnish island of Åland, with the three groups of students collaborating with different tasks all in relation to the week’s theme- ‘Life As A Refugee’. It is at this point that I’m going to point out that the Swedish students spoke Swedish, the Åland students spoke Swedish with a funny accent and, despite similarities, Swedish and Norwegian are still different languages. I can understand written Swedish pretty well but this week was pretty much my first real experience trying to understand someone speaking Swedish. It went better than I had expected but still undoubtedly did mean there were some limits of conversation with the other students. Still, throughout the week I did my best to meet and talk to the other students and those that AI met were pretty cool. On the last night of the trip we had a fancier dinner where different letters were written in every spot (an S,N OR Å) to try and encourage all the students to get to know each other. I was in the last group of people to get into the room so by the time I was able to assess available spots there weren’t so many left. So, without worrying too much about the awkwardness that could potentially ensue, I sat down between to students from Åland that I hadn’t met before. There was also a Swedish girl on our table and we were later joined by another Norwegian student. I initiated introductions and soon enough conversation began to flow. I did my best to follow along and contribute though admittedly by the end of the night the part of my brain capable of understanding Swedish was sort of worn out. As we walked back to our hotel I was talking with another Norwegian student about the nice students that I’d been able to talk to for most of the evening and she made the comment that I was obviously really comfortable and confident in social situations and that she wished she could socialise with others like I could. I would never have really considered myself an overly social person, I prefer a few, really good friends rather than a large group and am not exactly great with people I don’t know that well, or at least I wasn’t. This comment from my classmate made me realise just how much confidence I had actually gained in the past 9ish months. I put myself out there without mentally freaking out and despite the disadvantage of not speaking Swedish like the other 3 students. 3 months ago doing this probably would’ve resulted in 3 internal nervous breakdowns before I’d even sat down but now it just doesn’t seem like something to stress about. I guess this all comes down to the fact that, when you go on exchange, everyone you meet is new. Take a moment to consider what life would be like if the only people you physically interacted with everyday were people you’d known for less than 10 months. There are all these people in my life now that 3,6,9 and 10 months ago I could’ve worked past in the street with absoloutely no recognition for, all these people that I had to go through awkward introductions with and gradually get to know. I’m at a point now where I know all these different people and, as a result, have become well-practiced at those first encounters.
I have also, undoubtedly, gotten better at asking for help in a few different contexts. I was going back through the notes section of my phone recently (I have a wide variety of things written in them from speeches, playlist ideas, restaurant orders to rants, gift ideas and philosophical articles) and came across a list I had written back in April. It was about the different things that made up me, focusing mainly on what I liked and what I found difficult (I’m pretty sure the idea came from a magazine I’d been reading). At the very top of the list of things I found difficult to do I had written ‘talk to workers in shops’. This might seem small but I was one of those people that would freeze up every time a shop worker said hi to me when I walked into a store. It was a social interaction that I couldn’t handle. I’d generally give a meek hi back or even just an anxious smile and don’t even get me started on the awkwardness of what happened if they came up to me and asked if I needed any help. Admittedly, I’¨m still not overly exuberant and definitely don’t strike up a conversation with the worker about their day (still a long way to go) but I’m definitely not as awkward as I was and recently even asked for help. I’m not going to give the exact context for this, just know that if I hadn’t asked for help I would’ve had problems. I know this all seems small but, at the same time, this was something that I struggled with before.
I’ve also began to understand how to ask for help in general life. I’m one of those people that likes to always appear to be in control. If everything went to plan I should come off as having nothing to worry about and living a stress-free life, both in Australia and Norway. I don’t like to ask for help because, to me, that would be admitting I don’t have everything sorted out. Recently I encountered a situation that had me seriously freaking out (again no real context will be given). My brain was ringing alarm bells and, even though I thought I might be overreacting, I reached out to someone for help. In this situation all I really needed was for someone to assure me that everything was going to be okay, I don’t panic and worry about things as much as I used to but this wasn’t something I could just blow off. I came to the realisation (it was a borderline epiphany really) that I didn’t need to deal with things on my own if there was someone who could give me some assistance. It doesn’t make me any stronger or braver if I let myself freak out without sharing my problem when there are people who can help, in fact it probably makes me sillier.
Something that has also changed is that I’ve gotten over myself. Again, this is something slightly difficult to put into words, partly because the term ‘get over yourself’ is used mainly as an insult. It means to stop being conceited and pretentious and, whilst I don’t think either of those could have been used to describe me to any great extent (despite the amount of times my sister told me to get over myself constantly) I feel as though I could have been more modest within my thoughts. I didn’t go around acting like I was better than anybody but I’ve gradually come to the realisation that there were several things I felt I sort of deserved just because. I expected every teacher to like me (should note I am a pretty decent student) and expected to do well in school without having to try incredibly with every subject (I’ve gotten the highest score in my class with a report I wrote in 45 minutes before (should note this wasn’t for english)). I would claim that I didn’t think I’d done particularly well but somewhat subconsciously expect to have the top mark even though I know there were people who worked harder than me. This paragraph might not make me particularly popular but the point I’m trying to make is that I’ve finally noticed it and now don’t do it.
Sort of stemming from this point comes the fact that I’ve gotten better at admitting when I screw up. I recently had a bit of a one-sided argument with my mother over messenger. The exact topic is not important but long story short I over reacted. I had been at my work experience for the entire day (7 hours), was cold, tired and hungry (I was heading home) and I guess I was sort of looking to take it out on someone. I haven’t raised my voice at anyone since I left Australia, a bit of a difference from the regular shouting matches my sister and I used to have, and there are sometimes that I just want to scream (again I think it’s a teenager thing or maybe a me thing) but have to internalise it. So on this particular day my mum had sent me a message with certain news that I wasn’t overjoyed in and I knew, as I was sending the retaliation message, I was digging myself a hole and was going to regret it later on. Still, I did it anyway (one doesn’t stop being human whilst on exchange though you’d have hoped I would’ve become a little more mature) and so 3hours later I found myself sending an apology message that in a lot of ways basically excused my behaviour. 1 hour after that I finally constructed an actual apology, one that doesn’t try to reason with the behaviour and instead takes ownership for it. There are two ideas here that I think are really important and I certainly place more weight on them now. The first is to just apologise. This is probably something that I’ve really gotten drummed into me whilst out in work experience at a preschool. If there’s an argument or conflict I just get the kids to apologise to each other and 99% of the time 5 minutes later everyone is happy again. Whilst the real world might not work so fast I’ve come to the understanding that if I just apologise and don’t try to excuse what I’ve done things get better faster. The second idea is that of taking responsibility for your actions. In every situation another person could probably get the blame for something you’ve done. Maybe they inspired your actions, suggested it to you or did it with you. Point is, no matter what they did, you are the only one in control of yourself. If you get to credit for all the good stuff then you should also take credit for all the bad. Whilst I haven’t done anything bad or wrong, there are situations where I look back and consider why I had a certain perspective or why I didn’t do something else and understand that the best thing I can do now is to own up to my actions and thoughts and move on. Overall I am happy and proud with 99% of the things I’ve done but one can always be better.
We now find ourselves at the end of my long blog. Maybe this gave you insight into the kind of ways we change when we do ‘change as a person’ whilst on exchange or maybe it made you think that I’m a bad or at least was a bad human being before I left Australia (I don’t really care, you’re entitled to your own opinion). I’ve changed and I know I’ll continue to change as I experience things I never before imagined to be possible. There’s a quote I like that goes as follows: everything is impossible until it is done. I thought a year exchange was impossible after my first week, yet here I am. Life has a funny way of setting you the challenges that you need.
Until next time,