Nowadays the borders between countries are disappearing and/or are getting easier to cross. It is ironic to think that as the amount of humans being born each year and new details discovered about our planet grows, the world is actually getting smaller. So many planes are flying daily that a distance is rarely considered far or unreachable anymore. All of this results in having a diverse mix of people in almost every area in the world, even if it only means having a couple of people to represent a certain nationality in a foreign country. It also means that traditions or problems that once seemed very distant are now right in front of us.
I decided to do a semester abroad to discover more about life, to get better at a foreign language and honestly, because I felt suffocated. Coming from a small country like Estonia where almost everyone is somehow related or at least know of each other might be overwhelming at times. It is hard to understand what is going on in the world as a whole when you cannot see past the small bubble you live in. It is also due to the millennial in me that keeps on looking for purpose.
Living in a city with a wide range of different cultures, nationalities, ethnicities, etc. educates us in a way no textbook ever could. While being at your home country and hearing about different crises around the world you are not really influenced by them. But living in Rotterdam where the people from Syria are seeking refuge and are studying right alongside you actually has an impact. Or hearing stories from your friends who are studying journalism alongside Syrians in Germany who were declared state criminals because of their profession back at home. While being in the middle of it all, there is no way to stay out of it or to escape the reality of what is going on. Diversity sometimes shocks you into seeing how many different possibilities there are, both negative and positive. Either by seeing a father kicking his son in the metro or a refugee attending Oxford and winning awards. All of these experiences make us see the world as it is, not as just a faraway perception.
It teaches you about the world but even more about yourself. When seeing such a variety of situations and people – your opinions, perceptions and behaviour all change. Not only because of the cultural influence but even more for the people who surround you. My experiences abroad have made me understand solidarity in a whole new concept. Since I now know more I act and react differently as well. Things that made me surprised or horrified before do not shake me as much anymore, thus I have learned to understand or get used to them. But of course there is so much yet to discover.
As cliché as it sounds, distance does make the heart grow fonder. It also shows what is not meant to last and what should be let go. And it is true about every part of our lives, not only in the romantic department. In my experience, it shows you more clearly what your deepest wishes are. Once being exposed to so many different cultures, coming up with more creative ideas for one case study than in 1,5 years in my home university combined leaves a significant mark. For me, it left me wanting more. To discover more than I already had because I could see how much it affects the way I think or work with different projects. Thus, it made me understand that before settling down, I wish to see as much as possible and be surrounded by a diverse environment in order to blossom from it. It made me apply only to universities abroad, since I felt that I would otherwise be missing out on the diverse ways things are done in a university with many internationals.
Therefore, diversity drives us to do more. It also might scare us to never want to leave the comfort of our house. But diversity pushes people out of their comfort zones and develops us to see more. After my semester abroad in France I was shaped by my experience, the culture and mostly by the people I met. By hearing different stories, learning about people’s victories and failures I started getting a clearer picture of what I wanted my world to look like. I think it has also taught me that change starts within oneself. Once your mindset is different you might also start seeing beyond yourself and see what you could do for the world. Even if it is the smallest thing that makes a random situation slightly better. I cannot describe how proud I felt when my Austrian friend was going up to lonely people at an event to chat with them and make them feel better so she could overcome their fear of talking to strangers. She is now working in a startup that is going global and that shows how little changes can lead to important achievements.
However, I think there is always more to learn. As the world is constantly changing we have to evolve with it. There is a saying in Estonian “as much as there are different people, there are different opinions” which suits the point I am trying to make. In order to keep up with these different opinions we need to learn more about different people, through that we might be able to understand situations regarding diversity much better. All in all, being surrounded by a diverse set of people we all change and develop into more diverse beings ourselves too. Whether we notice it or not, like it or not, the change is inevitable.
Author: Laura-Liisa Lilleberg
Editor: Kärt Mättikas
Pictures: Laura-Liisa Lilleberg