This is a question that popped up every time me and my Glasgow flat mates felt confused or home sick. Indeed, what was a bunch of teenagers thinking when they decided to leave behind their lives and families and move in a foreign country to continue their studies? Well, we were not thinking too much. We went with the flow. We cluelessly jumped in the journey of being international students for the thrill of it! And suddenly we woke up thousands of miles away from home, without basic knowledge of how the big bad world functioned. But a couple of years passed and we got to master how being students at the University of Glasgow worked. Life was good! The people made sense, those streets had history, and we knew the rules of the game: how to play and how to win, how to be insiders! This is when we decided to leave again! If we could so easily be international students, for sure we could also make some amazing exchange students!
‘Oh, but what were we thinking?’
Now we should have been aware of all the implications of such a change. And I was definitely surprised when I realized that we were not! We went with the flow. We cluelessly jumped in the journey of being exchange students for the thrill of it! And here is where I will leave the plural aside and talk only for myself. For me this Erasmus experience has been a ‘road to rediscover’… and not always an easy one.
It was only through this experience that I realized how much my first two years and a half of university changed me. I definitely was the same old same me and it was only the context that was different! Or wasn’t it? When I tried to use on Stockholm the same overly confident approach I did upon my arrival in Glasgow, I was shocked to see that I cannot pull it off anymore: I could not get in! I could not break the image of being a mere “Erasmus student” and the cultural barrier. Of course, one can always say that the time spent here is not enough in comparison to what I had at my home university, but that is not the only variable. In trying so hard to make a name in Glasgow and getting in very fast, now I realized that I have lost track of how young-adult-me was definitely not the same as teenage-me. At 19 years old it was not a problem to adjust who I was in order to harmonize it with what mattered and what did not in my new environment. Thus I used all my energy to enhance my qualities that were needed and tone down those I disregarded as important. I pushed in the outside my workaholic, excessively rational and control freak nature, while I slowly allowed my romantic, sentimental and socially funny being to get silent. Being respected in a culture that often considered itself superior to my own became my goal. Suddenly being liked and having friends outside my indispensable inner circle did not matter anymore. But Stockholm said no! From the very beginning being labeled as an exchange student meant that I was not supposed to be taken seriously! It meant that I was allowed to break conventional rules of duty just by saying that I am taking a vacation to visit France or Finland. Being linked, having friends and fun was all that mattered. My toned down nature started erupting as a volcano and I was at war with myself! Who am I? What am I supposed to do? What are my priorities? Days of complete fulfillment chaotically alternated with days of desperation in which nothing made sense. I am currently in the second half of my exchange and the war just begins to give signs of getting to its end. I learned a lot of things about myself during the three months I spent in Stockholm and the most important think that I have learned is that it is perfectly ok to be an outsider! It is ok not to feel at home! There should be a lot of places that do not belong to us, since those exact places define what home is!
Glasgow is part of my identity and now I am more aware of it than I’ve ever been. I cannot wait to go back and say: hey awful and rainy concrete jungle! I missed you! I am sorry I deprived you from fully getting to know me because of my unawareness that you accepted me long before I noticed. But I just guess I needed something like Stockholm to be my road to rediscover! I needed this Stockholm adventure to show me that who we are constantly changes and that getting barricaded in a comfort zone will never allow us keep track of those changes. So thank you, Stockholm for this experience and please bare with me for two more months, there are still some things I need to learn!