As a born and raised New Yorker, I was always surrounded by multilingual and multiethnic people. Every single one of my friends had a foreign background. Participating in their culture and family events has always created enjoyable memories. Even though we were of different ethnicities we were all of one nationality, we were American.
When I finally had the opportunity to study abroad in college, it was like a dream come true. I’ve always heard of faraway places and have been blessed enough to be a part of a family that values and can afford to travel.
For my first study abroad location, I chose Manchester, England in 2013. I was still apprehensive about living in a country in which I couldn’t verbally communicate so this seemed like the perfect match. While there I lived in a student flat with six other roommates. I lived with girls from Greece, Kazakhstan, China, and India. We all had our own bedrooms and bathrooms but we shared a common kitchen and living room. Although I’ve had experienced different cultures, this was new. Sometimes I would wake up to the smell of curry or walk into the kitchen and have my eyes burn immediately from roasted chili hot pot.
Even though we were of different nations we all had the common goal of education and discovering other cultures. As a group, we celebrated each other’s holidays and tried each other’s cultural cuisines. I found a little family away from home.
I also had different friend groups of fellow Americans, ERASMUS students, and local Brits. I never thought that I could connect with so many different kinds of people. Due to the many connections, I was able to make, my confidence and self-esteem boosted. I could relate to people of all genders, religions, races and sexual orientations. The social anxiety I once felt as an adolescent vanished.
There is a common human experience that is easy to tap into when you’re a student.
As a student, you are able to immerse yourself into a culture. You are not a tourist and you are not without purpose. You are there to learn; not only from books and professors but from the community too.
I take a little bit of Manchester wherever I go.
I no longer choose locations based on language. Since then I have studied abroad in Thailand, Italy, and Belgium for graduate school. Studying abroad has been my academic passion. It has left me with everlasting memories and life-long friends that I find comforting to look back on.
Text: Fateema Villani. Photo: Lynchburg College/Flickr