One of the phrases I despised the most when planning a semester abroad was “I can’t wait to see how much you change.” I knew that I’d change after spending four months in Europe, but I wasn’t sure how much of it would be visible. After all, I’m not planning on dying my hair a new color or trying to lose a bunch of weight. I’m not going to magically come back Dutch. I figured my changes would be more personal: I’d find a new interest in language, gain a better sense of self confidence, spend more time planning to travel, things that aren’t always something someone can see.
I also spent the first half of my experience here focusing on what was different, and why it wasn’t like home. These experiences made me miss America more and focus on the difference dividing me and the Netherlands instead of trying to embrace it. Sometimes, though, there’s no way to avoid it. And sometimes, the outcomes of those differences will be visible.
I’m a little curious to know what my family sees changed in me. Will it be the smile on my face? The tone my legs lacked before? The bags under my eyes from the flight home? Or is it going to be more subtle, like when I come home from the store with strawberry jam instead of grape jelly. Will they see something different in me when I ask for brussel sprouts with dinner, then offer to do the dishes? (yes mom, this is a public announcement that I will do the dishes when I come home).
I don’t think the physical changes are what anyone will be talking about. I don’t think anyone will see anything, but it won’t take long for them to notice how this experience has changed me. I hope that the things I bring back for America are not just souvenirs and fun stories, but instead a slightly new approach on life that will help me attain my future goals.
So here’s what I hope to bring back from the Netherlands:
1. Courage. I want my family to see how brave I can be by tackling new challenges and attaining new goals. I want my friends to see the confidence in my step, and the smile on my face as I get through the day.
2. A better sense of self. I want to be able to describe myself in three easy adjectives if someone asks, and I want to be okay with the parts of me I don’t yet know well. I want to be happy in that.
3. A different perspective. While I haven’t made too many friends who aren’t American, I’ve had my beliefs challenged nearly every day with something new. I’ve learned a lot about listening to new ideas, and appreciating where they come from. I want people to realize where empathy can lead, and see that a new perspective isn’t necessarily bad.
4. A yearning for adventure. Last week I planned a camping trip for August. Last summer I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of such an idea. But I’ve learned that I want to try new things, and I want to explore the places that I can, when I can.
5. A new appreciation for the things and people in my life. I’ve found so much beauty in being away from where I’m comfortable. Being in an unfamiliar place heightens the senses and forces you to notice more. Being abroad has let me realize just how important little things are, and how much I have to be grateful for, both at home and abroad.
I am a changed person because of this experience, and I am proud of what these changes may mean. I hope that I come back to America invigorated and excited, as ready to take on the world as I am right now. The unsettled feeling I had when I arrived in this country is settling, and it’s a really good feeling. While I don’t want to leave the Netherlands any time soon, I’m excited to go back home where I can really make the changes in my life that I need to. I’m excited to use what I’ve learned here to better myself and my future.
And who knows, maybe the Netherlands is in my future. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
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Charlie (Charles) McDowell
<p>I am a 20 year old Psychology and Intercultural Studies major escaping the suburbs of Chicago in search of an adventure. I can be found reading or writing most of the time, and love to talk to people. I've been daydreaming of traveling the world since I was a child, and am so excited that the time for that is finally here! Thank you for stopping by, I hope my stories are as helpful to you as these moments were for me.</p>