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Lost in translation? Learn adaptability if considering study abroad

By Maysie Krause | LTVN Reporter/Anchor

Have you ever considered or becoming a foreign exchange student? I am excited that I may get to experience this special privilege, but one thing that scares me is sticking out like a sore thumb.

If you share this fear, maybe you’ve been nervous because of the cultural and language barrier, but adaptability is the best way to overcome this fear. It’s that simple.

We all have values that are ingrained in us that we think are right. But through adaptability, we can recognize the sense of we have about our own ways.

In my life, I’ve had experiences with people from different places that have allowed me to practice adaptability. Through my experience and that of my father, I’ve learned that when you first make it your intention to develop a friendship with someone, it can break that barrier.

In my case, my first roommate and one of my best friends at Baylor is an international student from Beijing. When I moved in, I had no clue what she would be like; I just saw her name posted on my door. One thing I did to welcome her was leave a note on my dry-erase board. She still remembers that.

Next, I said, “It’s OK if we have awkward silences, because it won’t make me uncomfortable.” Looking back, I realize it was a laugh-worthy thing to say, but it truly made a difference for me.

Next, she made meals and invited me to have hot pot dinners. It was truly so kind and generous of her. She shared her culture with me, and we connected by doing fun things together and showing each other new aspects of our cultures.

I am truly fortunate to have known someone like her, because I learned about her motivations for coming here. It’s not a surprise that in Chinese culture, people do things very differently than in the U.S. However, I couldn’t be more proud to see how she has carried the unique strength of adaptability with her. She has taken full advantage of the opportunities she is presented with and performed beyond excellently.

It has not always been easy to cohabit with someone, but we are there to empower each other. It’s truly been one of the best things that has happened to me — to know someone I look up to in this way and someone who looks up to me too.

In the case of my father, who moved to France as a foreign exchange student right after high school, he learned the most from his experience by connecting with his host family around the dinner table. But it didn’t start there. Throughout high school, his family hosted a student from France, and they are still friends today. My father has returned to France six times, each visit honoring the friendship he made through hosting a foreign exchange student.

Reflecting on his journey, I discovered that his experience was not easy. For example, the French make their own mayonnaise and don’t like it when we ask for a lot of ice in our drinks. There are a million other little differences. If you ask them at a restaurant, they might be annoyed because they take food very seriously, with four-course meals.

Despite the ways our cultural differences may be set, my father and his friend have remained best friends. They have celebrated each other’s weddings and visited each other multiple times, even last year.

My friend and I plan to stick together too.

So wherever you go, whatever you do, enjoy where you are, especially if you are not only meeting someone from abroad but are also a fish out of water yourself.

Don’t be afraid to interact with the locals and learn to speak their language. Respecting their culture means going with the flow. Rather than expecting or insisting on what you want, adapt and learn from those around you, because the truth is, we are more similar than we think.