Have you ever thought about how travelling abroad and living abroad has influenced you? Maybe only by becoming more open and curious about the world but it could be much more radical: maybe meeting the love of your life or deciding on a radical career change.
When I was 16, I spent a year in Hobart, Australia. Looking back, that year changed everything. Of course, none of those changes happened immediately after but my life would have been so different if I hadn’t left a small rural village at age 16 to go to the other side of the world, living with a family I didn’t know, going to a completely unfamiliar high school and meeting other exchange students from the rest of the world. Doing this definitely ranks at the top of my best decisions made so far.
During my years at university, I studied and worked abroad again a few times. And of course, I travelled – in Europe, in Asia. I’ve always thought that some time abroad is so good for anyone to experience.
Last Sunday this idea was confirmed again. During Sunday afternoon drinks with my parents’ neighbours, I started talking to one of the neighbour’s daughters: she had recently been to China on a high school exchange.
She had participated in an exchange programme via her high school facilitated by Jialei & Co. I had heard about this organisation before and it was interesting to hear the experiences of a high school student who had participated.
But what I also loved about talking to her was not just to hear about how she perceived China but how her curiosity had increased, and how she now seems more open to try new things. She had only been away for 10 days but had tried things in China she would’ve just refused at home. Sometimes the reason wasn’t only curiosity to try things, but also respect for her hosts: because you don’t refuse to eat something you’ve never tried before but which your host has spent more than an hour preparing in the kitchen.
The result is the same though: discovery. Of new things, new food, new ways of looking at the world. A perspective of the world that doesn’t automatically assume that the way life is where you are at, is the way things are everywhere – or the way they should be. And that’s a lesson no one can take away from you anymore.
The motto that my exchange organisation sent me off to Australia with way back in the ’90s was
It’s not right, it’s not wrong: it’s different.
I can’t tell you how many times since this sentence has popped into my head, wherever I am in the world.