I was born and raised in a family where living abroad, even traveling abroad becomes a privilege. My father is a public-school teacher who is unlikely to have an overseas transfer and. Thus, when I was kid, I had a mindset that being abroad was only affordable for the rich. However, since being exposed to geography in elementary school, I have been curious to memorize name of countries and their position in world map until today. After a very long journey, I finally landed on foreign country for the first time. Yes, United States is the first country and I would be staying here for two years. My first traveling abroad is my first living abroad.
As a beginner, every first is always fascinating but is also daunting. That’s how living abroad meant to me before I left my home country. Being fascinated to experience new things and cultures and being daunted to lose my personality and identity especially I moved from a developing country to superpower country. Time goes by and now I am about to finish my third semester, I feel that myself gradually changes.
Recalling my sociology notes about mechanisms of cultural change; one of them is acculturation which is absorbing new cultures without eliminating existing cultures. Personally, I choose this mechanism to combine what I learn here and what I bring from home. And here is the result.
1. More people we meet, more open-minded we are
Being abroad will expose us to meet various people from different backgrounds. If we just see them visually, we might not feel any changes. But if we communicate and interact with them, we can learn and understand a case from people’s standpoint. More people we interact with and more standpoints we learn, we are going to be able to see an issue from many perspectives and then we will be less arrogant. If knowing more people makes us feel the better than them, we might not let our mind open.
2. Respect time = respect people and ourselves
An infamous culture in my home country is giving less respect to time. A 15-minute delay for attending appointment is common there. I absolutely agree that it’s a bad thing which I can’t apply wherever I am. Here do I understand why respecting time means respecting people. Time is the most precious thing and if somebody give us his/her time, we need to respect it because we never know how busy he/she is. Now I am trying to always be on time for any appointments I have unless any urgent I must do.
Having time-discipline is not only for respecting other but also respecting ourselves. Sometimes we don’t realize that we waste our time by procrastinating. We are going to start doing an assignment, looking at calendar, “It’s due next week, I’ll do it later.” Two – three times doing this might not impact our life, but once doing procrastination, we will think it is okay do it again and again. We never know how much time we have and we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Now I am also trying not to put off what I can do today.
3. Getting more curious to learn new things and getting more motivated to learn own cultures
It might sound contradicting, but it surely happens. Being abroad makes us a representative of our country. People will understand our cultures from what we do. Coming from a multiethnic country, I have responsibility to promote my own cultures especially student organization of my country regularly participates in cultural events held by Texas A&M University or Bryan-College Station cities like Flag Day and Brazos Valley World Festival. As what I did last month, in Brazos Valley World Festival, I learned (again) traditional scripts of my ethnic which I had not used it for a while because it was barely used in everyday life. Realizing that people were impressed with it, I got more encouraged to learn further my own cultures. Another simple thing is learning to cook traditional dishes. Honestly, when I am in my home country, I do not have any urgency to master this skill because I can easily find traditional cuisine restaurants there. To cure my homesickness of eating traditional dishes here, I must be able to make it on my own because the nearest Indonesian restaurants are in Houston. Spending almost 3-hour round trip just for a plate of traditional soup is not worth to do, right?
[Me in traditional attire of Javanese, one of Indonesian ethnics]
On the other hand, living in a foreign country increase my curiosity to know other countries’ cultures. One of the unforgettable moments is attending Pow Wow festival in San Marcos this month. I got real experience to witness traditional dance from Native American tribes. Another moment is visiting Texas History Museum which made me understand why Texan are so proud of themselves. Thanks to many world cultural events here which introduce me to many cultures and authentic food around the world.
[Me among Native American dancers in Pow Wow festival]
4. Upgrade management skills
Being away from family means we need to cope with any problem on our own; from health until financial stuff. It does not mean that we don’t need to have management skill when we live at our place but living abroad will upgrade your skill because everything might be different from what we used to have.
Although healthcare system here is expensive, being healthy is way cheaper. Honestly, the environment here in College Station is more supportive to live healthy than in my hometown. It has less pollution and is far from industrial area. Fruits, veggies, raw meat are still affordable if we want to spend some time to cook. Well-equipped fitness center is available in campus and most of apartments; if you have paid for recreation center fee, make use of it regularly to maintain your fitness. Temptation to consume junk food sometimes comes especially if deadlines are approaching.
My financial management is also moving to a higher level because I don’t want to be broke in a foreign country whose the currency is higher. As I explained in the previous blog, since I moved here, I started to split monthly living allowance based on mandatory expenses: saving, apartment rent, phone bill, and groceries. Thus, I won’t randomly spend my money during the first week of the month.
Another skill is time management. I am amazed seeing people here having a work-life balance which I rarely find in my home country. People maximize their working/school hour by working or studying and when after hour comes, they turn working mode off and start to do something fun. Remember 8-8-8 formula in time management? To get a balanced life, our 24 hours is split into 8 hours for working/school, 8 hours for leisure activities, and 8 hours for taking rest. It inspires me to do a better time-management skill because I want to have a balanced life especially during living abroad. I don’t want to spend my whole time here just by studying without doing something new and fun.
5. Not only trust media
Media has brainwashing power. However, what appears in media is just a small part of a big thing. We can believe what media says but we can’t make it representative for a bigger scale. I always thought that people in developed countries would be less friendly because that’s what I got from media. Once I arrived here, I just realized that people here are so welcoming. Even when I meet people during my morning jogging, people say “Good morning” to me which was surprising for the first time. Another thing is I was expecting that metropolitan cities like New York or Los Angeles were super modern, glorious, and superb with wealthy people as shown on any movies. Yes, they are but with numerous homeless everywhere. Thus, being abroad makes me understand that what media says might be true, but it might not be used to represent a whole thing. Also, I learn that we cannot put any label (especially bad label) on people before we have direct interaction with them.
All above sounds positive but honestly, I also experience some negative changes since moving here. I always try to select which values are good and appropriate for myself. Once I notice that a culture is not good for me, I come back to my roots. Adapting to a new environment is challenging but surely it makes us stronger and wiser.
Let’s explore the world!
Mifrokhah is a masters student in the Geotechnical Engineering program.