The biggest change after study abroad

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Me fooling around at the Joshua Tree National Park
The main change that I experienced during the fellowship program is a newfound ability to understand myself and to practice self-love. Before I came to the US, I was not entirely confident in myself. I became overwhelmed with all of the new things that I experienced in the US, including a new culture, a new style of academic life, forming friendships with people from different cultures, and living far away from home and family. Those things were not easy to deal with, mainly because I did not fully understand how to handle the stress that came with those challenges.

I found it difficult to keep up with schoolwork as I did not completely understand what my peers or professors were saying in my classes. I thought my knowledge of English was sufficient until I came here and realized that it was not. Living in an English speaking environment full-time was tough. I was upset and felt terrible because I thought I was not smart enough to be here and survive. In addition, cultural differences between the US and Indonesia are quite significant. I found it difficult to make new friends, especially with Americans. Also, at the same time, I experienced some personal problems that drained all the strength that I have left.

For a time, I could not sleep at night, which made me very sleepy and have a lack of energy. Again, I blamed myself for not being capable of solving problems both in my academic and personal life. I hated myself and felt depressed. As a consequence, I did not perform well in school.

However, after some time, I realized that my self-blame is a form of self-harm that I could not tolerate. I had to find a way to make things better and adapt to my challenges. I realized that blaming myself and having self-pity all the time was not helpful. I started journaling, reading self-help books, and seeking professional help at the health center to handle my depression. I gradually learned to love myself. I tried to not compare myself to other students’ accomplishments. I could only compare me to my past achievements, and not to anyone else’s. I no longer tell myself harmful words. I now try to be kind and only speak kind words. I have learned what works and what does not work for maintaining my lovely self.

Over time, this new mindset indeed worked. Now, I know myself better. I know how to love myself and handle stress. As a result I can focus on solving problems. If I find it hard to understand material in a class, I now ask professors or study harder. I do not blame myself anymore, because it is ok to not know everything. When I found it hard to write in English, that challenge is also ok. Even my friends that have been using English as their first language also find writing difficult. I now know how to make friends with Americans. I now appreciate the differences between Indonesian and American culture. Eventually, I know that having difficulties does not mean that I am a failure. I can always do something to find a way of solving my problems. If I cannot find solutions, I now know where to seek help. Developing this understanding and accepting my imperfections helps me to focus on the important stuff.

I choose self-love as the most important change that I learned during the fellowship because it affects all parts of my life. It helps me to make appropriate decisions, solve problems, and focus on my priorities. Self-love is a crucial basic skill set which I can use for both academic and personal life. I now lead a more effective personal and professional life by not inflicting self-harm. Being far away from home and experiencing cultural differences may not easy. Ultimately, I will always be better off by working as hard as I can and by being okay with the way things are.

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