A commenter on my blog recently asked me to write about what I think is the most challenging part of being an exchange student. And so this is my response to them:
Now, in March, and with me being a very futuristic thinker, I’m apt to say that the most difficult part of being an exchange student is knowing that I have less than three months left. The entire second half of my exchange has been a real period of growth for me. I have noticed a big difference in my interactions with my host family and Omani friends. My relationships have strengthened exponentially. My Arabic is indeed improving. And I feel increasingly at home here.
However, to look at exchange-studentdom from a bird’s eye view I think I have a different answer. The most challenging part of being an exchange student, for me, is that I often am dreadfully lost as to what is happening and why.
I am the kind of person who, in general, is in the center of all activity. I know what’s happening; in fact, I often am the one making it happen. To be honest, I like to be in charge of what direction my life is going, and if I am not in charge, I make sure to get answers to all of my questions. Coming to Oman, being an exchange student in general, has changed that completely. I now have to rely on other people for so many parts of my life, from getting a ride to translation.
At home and at school, sometimes life just does not turn out exactly as I expected it would. I have to ask questions I otherwise wouldn’t have needed to because announcements were made in Arabic. Sometimes, things are said in English but I just do not understand why something is happening.
Having to have a translator is another big step for me. My friends who translate for me at school (in assemblies and the like) do an excellent job, but it is weird not to hear it firsthand. I truly wish my Arabic were better, but the truth is that it only creeps along.
In many cases, something in my life will be happening and I just will not know why. A decision will be made, usually for something trivial, but I always feel that I am the last to know. This isn’t the fault of anyone; it just happens.
In a nutshell, I feel disconnected from my life sometimes.
Which, for me, is an incredible challenge. Since my Arabic comprehension has improved over the past month or two, this is slightly less of an issue for me now. I’ve learned to listen for key phrases that tell me when something is happening and why. And I’ve figured out the questions to ask.
Before coming to Oman, I knew there would be challenges, and with that, opportunities for personal growth. I don’t think I was ever able to grasp what those challenges would be. Learning to rely on others and to not always be totally in-the-know is perhaps the best example of personal growth that I have noticed. I’ve learned to be more flexible through this, and I’ve learned to sometimes realize that a “my way or the highway” attitude is not necessarily the best approach. Things some places are done differently, and I’m not always right.