Three things I have learnt about myself since travelling abroad

I am one month into my study abroad semester at ESSCA Shanghai and so far, I’ve learnt a great deal. I expected to discover a totally different culture, learn a new language and meet many new people. What I wasn’t expecting was the self discovery experience that I am currently going through. It sounds fairly cliche but in all honesty since coming abroad, I am really ‘finding myself’. Putting myself out there in a totally unfamiliar environment has really opened my eyes to my strengths and weaknesses and taught me how to really listen to my personal needs.

I am very headstrong

Considering that I tend to be very opinionated on things that are not really considered valuable within Chinese social norms, it has been somewhat difficult for me to get used to the culture here. As a vegan in a society where food is so intertwined with culture and concern for animal welfare is almost non existent as well as being a politically vocal Australian in an overly censored nation, I definitely have the feeling of being out of place at times in Shanghai. The benefit of being faced with this sort of thing is that I have really learnt to embrace and own my ethics and morals even when they are challenged and questioned.

It has also taught me to be very mindful of others and to be respectful of differences despite differences in values and lifestyle. So whilst I am headstrong and confident in myself and my beliefs, I’ve also learnt that I am quite diplomatic and really try to avoid unnecessary conflict.

I am constantly seeing and hearing about things that make me uncomfortable or that I disagree with in relation to human rights, animal welfare and political ideals. However, what my time here has taught me is that difference in culture are not wrong, they’re just different. The world needs these variations in order to function as it does. I feel this is the most important learning that I’ve had so far.

I live for challenges

 I’m not an overly confident person and definitely struggle with anxiety issues. For some reason, maybe just to spite myself, I feel the need to challenge myself constantly, particularly when it comes to things like public speaking or putting myself out there in leadership positions.

Recently, my host university asked for nominations for a Student Representative within our exchange group. The thought of it made my stomach turn; giving a speech, rallying support, voting. For some reason, I sent an email nominating myself. A week later I fumbled my way through a one minute speech and managed to convince enough people to back me and I was selected as a student rep.

Since then, I’ve thought a little about why I bothered and why I tend to always do this to myself. I’ve learnt that the thought of unattainable goals make me want to give things a shot that I really don’t feel comfortable with. Discovering and challenging my weaknesses make me a better person and I’ve only just realised my tendency to push my own barriers since coming abroad. Everything is so unfamiliar that you can’t help but to look at yourself from an outsiders point of view and it really has helped me to get to know myself better.

I am an expert procrastinator

 This is a very silly thing to have only come to terms with since commencing my study abroad. I’ve suspected myself of this for a very long time but always pinned my perpetually last-minute actions on the fact that I lead a really busy life back in Sydney. I cram my time full with multiple jobs, volunteer work and university so that I generally only have time to do the urgent things as they come up. I never finish assignments early or manage to successfully pre-plan things and now I can finally call myself out on it. Here in Shanghai, I have no job, no volunteer work and a far less packed social calendar so I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I am a horrible procrastinator.

Every part of this exchange thus far has been incredible. I’ve met so many new people and learnt heaps already. One thing that stands out to me is that, whilst university is much the same for me here, the experience of living and studying in a country that is so different is a hugely enriching experience. I learn more just through day to day activities and chatting with new friends from all over the world than you can ever learn in a classroom.