I recently spent four months in the US for a semester exchange program. This was the longest period I have been out of India. Living away from home in a different country can be an amazing experience. This is how I found it a great learning opportunity:
- Learn to cook: Like most of us youngsters, I had not cooked anything other than Maggi Noodles before. This could only go on for so long. While in another country, you don’t have much choice if you are living alone but to cook. Initially reluctant, I found cooking to be a very enriching experience. I can make almost anything now (not kidding). Hence, I better appreciate elements such as taste, nutrition, and diet timings. It also brings a discipline because when you have to be in the kitchen at the right time, rest of the schedule must be planned and adjusted accordingly.
- Meet people and travel: University campuses in the US are truly international and multi-cultural. Being in such an environment is enjoyable. I met people from tens of countries and made friends. Hearing their stories, learning about their cultures and trying authentic cuisines is a great experience. I also traveled to a lot of places within the country. Travel is an exposure to American exceptionalism. They have built a great nation and there is a lot to admire. Professionalism, patriotism, and punctuality are just some of the things one can learn from America. In India, we continuously witness what humans can achieve spiritually by going beyond the worldly pleasures. In the US, one witnesses what humans can achieve materialistically and intellectually by applying their mind to innovation. (More about the positives of American system sometime later)
- Read: If you have a relaxed stay and travel, you get enormous time to finish your reading wish list. While abroad, you may not have many social engagements. Fewer meetings, a lesser number of known people, and detachment from events like marriages, conferences, celebrations, etc. gives time to read. Needless to say, reading (good books) is one of the best practices to develop in life.
- Question your beliefs: I was exposed to a culture I had not seen before. I was also away from a culture I had spent 23 years in. This allowed me to question and rethink many beliefs and notions I had about the west. America is different from Hollywood, just like India is different from Bollywood. Living away also made me appreciate values that I grew up with, which we usually take for granted. One example is the celebration of Rakhi. The idea behind the festival is showing solidarity and protection to the other. Some Indian families and students in the US extended this idea from a brother-sister thing to the larger society. University students and families now invite people like fire safety personnel, police officers, and a variety of other people and tie them a Rakhi. This reinforces oneness in the society.
These are only a few of the many benefits of spending some time in a different (and developed) country. If you have the opportunity to stay abroad for a short time, and in a learning environment, don’t lose it.