Being abroad has helped me figure out who I am and to think about issues from a broader perspective. I grew up in a well-to-do town outside of Boston, MA. My life was very self-centered, and my parents helped me in many ways so that I could focus on learning. When I started university, I came to realize how sheltered my life had been. This year was about changing that.

Growing up in America, I never understood politics. I actually avoided any discussion of them although it is the favorite topic for my dad. Especially with Europeans, politics has become the subject of many conversations. It has made me question if the two party system even works - a level above whether the democrats or the republicans are right. An issue doesn’t only have 2 sides and shades of grey in between, but can even be multi-dimensional. I rarely followed the news and felt really ignorant when for example, the Italians were talking about the Pope stepping down and I didn’t know. In the States, we might even have an image that we are the best nation in the world or close to perfect, but now I know that is far from true. I understand what culture is. In Hong Kong, it almost felt as though a dormant part of my identity came out. Traditions and norms within my family had to be explained to other exchange students. I never really felt frustrated in Hong Kong in terms of culture shock, but still feel it occasionally even now in Switzerland. However, I’ve also learned to appreciate the differences here because they do work. The supermarkets closing at 7 pm not only saves electricity, it saves working hours and time that employees can spend with their family. That probably results in cheaper prices for the customer. Maybe it isn’t the most convenient for the shopper, but everyone seems to be able to make do. And I’ve figured out why people stick with others of the same background.

I’ve learned to take care of myself. I found sticky situations where someone was going to get their feelings hurt. I came to realize how oblivious I was to some of the drama what was going on around me. I became more confident to speak up when I needed help or had a question.I always saw myself as independent, but in reality, I still needed my parents. Especially with the time differences, I often couldn’t call them whenever a problem came up. I grew up.

I’d call it a successful year so far, and there is so much more to learn.

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