To say that my study abroad experience changed me is an understatement. My outlook on life has shifted, and I feel so much more connected to different people around the world.
In the beginning things were pretty rough…all because I arrived to Tampere, Finland a week late due to a delay in my residence permit application process. This delay resulted in me missing Welcome Week at the host university which is where all the exchange students and Finnish students meet each other. When I first arrived to my apartment, I had no idea where the closest grocery store was, I had no internet connection, I didn’t know how to navigate the buses, and I had no one to help me. I felt scared and alone, but I decided to go outside and walk until I found a store with food and some essential items. Luckily, I ran into another exchange student at the store who happened to live in the same building as I, and he gave me some useful information that made me feel more at ease. After one or two weeks, with the help of (my now great friend) Kuu, I had settled into my apartment, I had learned where most things were located in the city, I had made some good friends, I had opened a Finnish bank account, I had begun to feel confident in navigating the buses, and I finally started to enjoy my experience abroad in Finland.
My time in Finland and in Europe gave me so much. I was able to refresh my French, improve my Spanish, learn Finnish, and remember some of the Arabic I had lost. I reconnected with old friends and family members that I hadn’t seen in over seven years since I left Syria. I visited a few countries in Europe and experienced different cultures, languages, and people in each country. I truly enjoyed seeing how people interact in different countries, how their transportation systems ran, what kinds of foods they ate, and how they dressed from day to day. In Finland for example, students dressed nicely when going to classes every day. This was different for me since students at State mostly wear athletic wear or jeans and T-shirts when going to class. This “pressure” to dress nicely when going to university made me put more effort into my daily look which in turn made me more confident.
My time abroad also influenced my personality and my taste. I feel more confident to be on my own and handle myself, I can now navigate and use public transportation with ease, my taste in music has expanded dramatically, my ability to adapt to new and stressful situations has improved, and I am more sensitive and understanding towards other people’s outlooks and cultures. But, most importantly, this experience allowed me to meet a lot of amazing people. These wonderful people are what made my experience so special, and I am so glad to call them my friends.