You know what is awesome? Being part of a group, a community. Knowing the cues, the references, the conversational crutches (Did you go to the game this weekend? How’s the project going? Do you know if they are ever going to release the elective list for this/next semester?). Do you know what is even more awesome? Losing every last bit of that.
As you know, because I will not stop harking on about it on g_m(s), I was not in Atlanta this last fall. I was in the land of boulangeries, late night crêperies, and government subsidized cafés. And while I love Atlanta (with all seriousness), this article’s theme is fairly simple. If you can, if it is possible for you, you should not be here next semester. I don’t need to expand on the stereotypical reasons to travel, to leave your country (and how to avoid the judgmental looks from the Delta clerk when you enquire about extradition laws and boarding times), but I am sure there is at least one person out there wondering if it’s worth it for them. The answer is simple; if you have ever thought, ‘I could, but…’ then do it. The fears are unfounded. The doubts don’t matter.
Design is a projection of our culture and with a change of culture, the ‘rules’ change as well. Personally speaking, I was fortunate enough to be looking at housing while I was there- a task often deemed banal, but incredibly interesting in an international context. Apartments are incredibly personal things- a change of culture creates a change of living- a change of expectations. As I designed there, I purposefully ignored clear-stated rules I was taught at Tech (never use corridors, destroy the box of program, minimize doors) in favor of the new ones my professors dictated (wall off the kitchen, separate the toilet from the bath, decrease the size to just what is needed). And how could I argue when my grasp of the language was tenuous at best? The answer is, I couldn’t. I had to relearn without caveats or preconceived ideas. No amount of study abroads prepared me for this. There was no American support structure, no way to attack the culture on our terms, to view it solely out of a window. I had to ask for directions, ask for help, to stand like a fool until (sometimes literally) pushed in the right direction. No, I had no idea what was going on around me, so for the first time in a long time I actually stopped to just watch and listen.
A change of location stole everything from me, my internal guides, my conception of size (is .8 m enough for a balcony, is 30 cm enough for a shelf?), my avenues of advice, and most dauntingly, my ability to express myself fully – to argue or debate, present or even fully listen. I lost everything, and it was amazing.
So I end with simply: Go. Go find a country on its own terms. Go away from the support of old friends and old habits. Go find new spaces. Go find new forms. Go to find new friends. Go to be confused, go to finally know what is actually important.
Bon Voyage .
[ Exchange, international, study abroad, volume8_issue4 ]