Tuesday, February 23, 2016

By Emily (Ly-Ly) Specter*

Emily Specter

I got on a plane to LAX with an overweight suitcase as opposed to a dream in my cardigan.

As soon as I got to the gate for my flight to Fiji, I was immediately overwhelmed. 86 incredibly, talented, unique people surrounded me. Not a lot of people understood why I choose New Zealand instead of the more common route to Europe, and even more people that I had surrounded myself with over the years didn’t even think about traveling.

But every single person in that gate was exactly like me: they wanted that far out destination. That incredibly unique experience. Because how many people usually say ‘Oh, I studied in New Zealand last semester?’ Not a whole lot.

I had thought I was completely special in choosing my destination and face it, we are told our whole lives we’re unique and special. Even in our friend groups, each member is significantly different in terms of views and personality. Yet, I had forgotten to account for the fact that everyone else I would be studying with would also be just as special and unique and have the same clever mindset of going to a once in a lifetime experience in New Zealand.

It was absolutely intimidating.

I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for meeting people because usually over analyzing and stressing out is not the sane course of action. In this instance, I wish I had. I suddenly felt like I had nothing to say. Every single person I met was amazing; they had done internships, already traveled, and worked 3 jobs that were related to their field of study. They wanted to change their lives, to immerse themselves in the Kiwi culture, just like me. A lot of my friends and the people I went to high school with haven’t even been out of the country and I thought I was. . .well ahead of the game. I was given quite a reality check at the airport.

I think we get so comfortable in our own spaces, that we forget sometimes that even though we are special and unique, there are hundreds of people out there who have done just as much or more. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t as interesting or smart.

When I arrived on Fiji besides from relaxing, and enjoying the beautiful sapphire waves, I found myself not talking as much. Most of my friends, find it hard to believe I can go two minutes without talking and saying a sassy comment, yet here I was not talking for twenty minutes, making practically zero jokes, and observing a whole lot more.

I have been in New Zealand now, for about two weeks and I finally realized, my personality hasn’t really been shining through. That isn’t to say I haven’t had a wicked awesome experience so far, because I most certainly have. But I haven’t been completely. . .well. . .me. . .

When we travel and move into a completely different world with a different set of people, we tend to become overwhelmed with the different culture. We tend to react, sometimes people talk way more than they usually do fearing that they’ll have no one to talk to, and others, like me hide more discreetly, trying to get comfortable before they shine through.

I say this, with no solution in mind. Just a warning, for when you travel on your own, to remember and prepare-although I doubt there will ever be enough mental preparation that braces you fully- for a completely new culture. You will feel intimidated, different, weird, wrong and that sometimes your voice is not worth sharing compared to the a loads of exceptional people you’ll meet a long the way. But I am here to remind you, that when you feel that way do what I do and remember all the times you made someone laugh with your wicked sense of humor, or call up your family because they will most defiantly eat up every word you say, reminding you why you are so incredibly awesome.

This sounds like an inspirational speech, and I usually do comedy so now this seems more like an ironic speech.  But I assure you, dear reader, this was for me just as much as it was for you. 

*Emily Specter is a junior at the University of Iowa studying psychology and international studies. The Kensington, California, native is spending the semester in Auckland, New Zealand, on a program through The Education Abroad Network.