Once you arrive to your host country, you will go through all kinds of changes: first you leave behind your life and build up everything from scratch. On top of that, you’ll try to adjust to the culture. It’s a lot to deal with, but that’s exactly the kind of long-lasting and life-changing experience you may be looking for, and one that nobody will ever be able to take away from you no matter where you go or what you’ll do in life.
Let me take you through three of the most mundane changes here in the United States, because coming from Europe (more specifically, the Netherlands), I had no idea what to expect or how these lifestyle changes would affect me.
1. Living Situation
My housing situation changed dramatically; all of a sudden I had a roommate to deal while living in this typical American dorm. Me and the concept of “boundaries” don’t go very well together, and I’ve always considered myself a solitary person, so that was a challenge. The funny part of it all was that it was a way bigger problem in my head than it turned out to be in real life. Before moving in to my new place, I would have sleepless nights just thinking about it, but now, a month later, I’m completely comfortable and it’s nice to always have somebody to talk to.
2. Diet & Eating Habits
Food-wise, everything has shifted. No more cooking, can you imagine? I couldn’t even think of it before I came here, I only knew the idea of university dining halls from the movies. Now, three times a day I happily go to the dining hall and choose whatever I’m craving. The first two weeks I missed my kitchen immensely: I would die to just eat some nice bread with chocolate sprinkles (Dutchies unite!). But you know what? Those small things are easy to give up when there is so much other stuff to gain; the fact that no time is wasted in cooking, shopping or cleaning, the endless choice of not only unhealthy foods but also an amazing salad bar and finally, the social aspect of eating every meal with your friends.
3. Schoolwork & Daily Planning
Even studying itself has transformed. At home, I’m always busy and stressed and rigorously planning, like the Dutch person that I am, and everything goes into my tight agenda. When moving into a completely new environment, this all fades away. No job, no internship, a different social life: it’s a whole new schedule for my day. This takes some time to adjust to, but it taught me to be more flexible. The beauty of life can’t be put in a schedule.
The challenge of it all is to combine and compromise your host culture with your own and better yourself. A nice example of this is sweatpants. I’m now wearing sweatpants outside of my house because it’s super comfortable and it makes me feel relaxed. No shame. Two months ago I would’ve declared myself crazy for doing this. The European within me also likes to wear actual jeans and a nice blouse for dinner sometimes, so that’s what I’m doing as well. 50% California sweatpants life, 50% fancy-pants. I’ve learned new things about myself I never thought possible. Combining all this new knowledge and balancing cultures creates a whole new exciting mix!
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