While hugging my family and partner goodbye in the middle of the Milwaukee airport, fiercely pushing any tears trying to escape back into their respective ducts, I couldn’t help but ask myself over and over and over again: why am I doing this? It would be so much easier to continue following my routine and enjoying the little pleasures, like shopping at the Saturday morning Farm Market, obnoxiously shouting Bob’s Burgers quotes at my partner (“No YOU smell like ointment and pee!”), or reading on my front lawn with Wisconsin grass between my toes.
It would be way easier to stay home (and cheaper, too. I feel you low/middle class folks). Of course, I did bring some of home with me. Rather than leave as much room for as possible for clothing in my one checked bag and carry-ons, I tucked a sprouting jar, some of my home-roasted coffee, and a few of my favorite incense sticks. Was this the most efficient use of space? That’s debatable. But one week into this uprooting experience and I’m utterly grateful I did. I’ve had my favorite coffee every morning (though I tried the Dutch “koffie normal” as well!), I already finished sprouting some mung beans and salad seeds, and I have a comforting aroma of incense soothing my senses as I write this post.
One week into this adventure and the answer to my question is evident. Why am I doing this? To make myself better. To understand the world more thoroughly. To experience people and cultures and stroopwaffels. To shatter my bubble of comfort. To immerse myself into an unfamiliar language. In short, to challenge myself. Obviously, this is only the beginning, but through the good, the bad, and the stressful, studying abroad is 100% what I need right now. Why has this been extremely beneficial already? Let me explain with an anecdote.
Prior to leaving abroad, I paid visits to my family members to remind them “Hey, I’m leaving the country soon!” and to say Doeidoei (Bye-bye!). From these visits, I experienced a wide array of reactions:
So tell me why you picked Amsterdam! For the weed, right?
Pastor told me to tell you to be careful in Amsterdam. They’re really free-wheelin’ over there…
The idea of the Red Light District just makes me uncomfortable. Women, just selling their bodies up there… it’s bizarre.
Just wait until you get back to America and you’ll realize how much you have here.
Promise me you’ll be careful over there.
Much of the rhetoric can be described as fear or anticipation, I would say. It’s not uncharacteristic that a family would be worried about someone traveling overseas. As a first generation student and the first person in my family to leave the United States, the fearful responses are even more explainable.
What absolutely baffled me was the predetermined idea that America is superior. I mean, sure, if you blindly ignore gun control issues, police brutality, ineffective sex education, the rampant rates of unplanned pregnancies and STIs, racism, sexism, classism, ageism… you see what I mean? Everything that happens in Amsterdam, whether that be prostitution, drug usage, or premarital sex, happens in the States. They just happen under different terms with different legislative and social ideas around them. Regardless, It’s a human tendency to believe that in-groups are superior to out-groups, such as MY country is better than their country (if you want to explore in-group bias, look at Tajfel & colleagues’ 1982 study or Jane Elliot’s “Blue eyes-Brown eyes experiment”).
In sum, yes, it’s easier to stay home. It’s easier to compare any place that isn’t your home and construct ideas, prejudices, or stereotypes about it. I’ve barely been outside of the United States for a week and I’m already questioning myself and my actions in ways I have never considered, such as my Americanness, or my monolingual status (unfortunately my broken Spanish and Dutch aren’t getting me anywhere). This is why studying abroad and traveling is so critical for individual and societal growth. At this point, I’m only limited by how far I’m willing to challenge myself. A friend of mine told me before I left to “pick at least one thing that scares the absolute shit out of you and do it”. When I figure out that thing, I’ll let you know but for now I want to extend that challenge to everyone reading this post. Pick something that scares you and challenge yourself. You can always bring a creature comfort with you for the adventure, but there’s a fine line between acknowledging creature comforts and letting them hold you back.
More Blogs From This Author
<p>Hello folks! I'm Shana, a small-town tree-hugger with a big appetite for experiences, culture, and knowledge. I'm an undergrad student of Psychology and Gender Studies, yearning to understand my surroundings better each day. Welcome to my conglomeration of ideas and passions, all nourished by traveling, friends, spinach, and coffee.</p>