No doubt I was thrilled! An exchange semester in Toulouse (south-France) sans academic pressure and the prospects of traveling across Europe is enough to get anyone excited. However as the day of my departure drew nearer, I started losing my sleep over speaking a foreign language, breaking into a circle of friends and living all by my selves.
I started sifting through blogs of previous exchange students and their experiences. Almost all said, “I got to know more about themselves and the society”. That was not particularly reassuring. However, post-exchange, I am grateful to have indulged myself in various situations to develop, something that familiar environments do not allow, perspective. New situations, new problems and an unknown language was the perfect recipe for making everyday a chapter in “Learning through self-realization 101”.
I was cautious to avoid the pitfall of holding any bias against the French avant-departure. We all tend to judge the people around us and every person we try to meet. Breaking into a circle of friends was hard, yet it was only through this desperation, I realized the fallacy of being highly judgemental. I allowed myself to accept people/society/friends as they were. Everyone has their reason for being so.
It is a human trait that compels us to help those in need. We all are inherently helpful. We stop being considerate only when we ‘tag’ people by developing pre-conceived notions through our individual singular experiences, media and the people we surround ourselves with. Being new in a new city, I was free. Free to help anyone and everyone irrespective of race/nationality. So I stopped looking for the right group/person, but accepted everyone I met.
Approaching people with no pre-conceived notions helped me absorb and understand more of the culture. I was set on not finding faults or making comparisons.
During my time in Toulouse, I was in awe to be surrounded by a number of polyglots. I would be asked for a preferred language out of menu of European languages. My attitude of being a good English speaker was blown to the ground as English was scorned by the French. (forget boasting a Welsh accent!!). Yet, these tough times that forced me to adapt myself are the moments I fondly remember.
When optimism remains the only option and yourselves as the only support, you start looking at the brighter side of things. This attitude allowed me to accept the foreign culture unconditionally and make the most of my time abroad. I finally understand the importance of “understanding about ourselves”.