View of the World From an International Student
Updated: Dec 30, 2022
Recently I was asked to prepare an article about why I would be interested in moving to the United States. For context on this, I am a South African citizen, and my family is looking to relocate to Florida in the United States. When I was given this assignment my first thought was, “Why wouldn’t I be?” One of the least controversial topics, to me, is whether or not somebody should take the opportunity to travel more. It definitely seems like the majority of people would already jump if offered the chance. Before anyone should think about traveling though, there’s two things they should consider; the place they’re going to and who they are as individuals.
The total number of international students enrolled in the US in 2019 was 1,095,299. This constituted 5.5% of the total students (Vlasova, 2020)
When people are young, they are curious. While they’re growing up in their own homes, in their own cities and countries, and everything is so new to them, they ask a lot of questions. They seek more information. They want to know more. They need to know more. They have a desire to experience things they are exposed. With that curiosity comes a great, unbridled enthusiasm towards life.
As they get older, however, it seems curiosity at times comes to a tragic end. As people get older, they start to feel a little more embarrassed every time they don’t know the answer to something that someone else does. They feel the need to put up a front of assurance and pretend they know more than perhaps expected to know. This is especially true because there are usually children around who look up to them and have so many questions of their own. As a result of this "pretending - aka imposter syndrome", people tend to lose a lot of this natural curiosity and thus, a lot of their enthusiasm towards life to try new things. The beautiful thing about going to another country, especially for a long enough period of time, is that it is a fresh slate. A chance to reinvent yourself in an area where you are not supposed to know everything, and it’s almost mandatory to ask and experience more. This brings back a little bit more of that incredible zest for life. The end result: curiosity shutdown.
Two of the biggest factors in curiosity shutdowns are thinking we know everything already and having an unchecked ego (Geiger, 2021)
When I was younger, for instance, my family and I went on a trip to Florida, where I got to spend a day at a high school on tour and see how all the classes were run differently. As crazy as it might sound, going to that high school during my vacation was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and one of the main reasons is because I made a few friends there. I got to ask them all sorts of questions about their daily lives and, for a moment, I felt what it was like to imagine myself as a local living in that area.
Going to a place like America, a place that is the forefront of technology and innovation, I was surprised to realize just how open and accessible their history as well. It was evident from every landmark, tour guide and statue. I was able to see how their history shaped the images of so many businesses in the area, it was like traveling to the past, present and future all at once.
This really helped me see a different side of Florida and something just clicked inside of me saying, “Yes, this is where I need to be”. Beyond that, I also noticed that the friends I made had the same sort of curiosity towards me, and where I lived as well. I was barraged with questions about what it was like to grow up in Africa; the food, the places, the animals, literally every small detail that I would normally take for granted and it felt so good to share those experiences, even if it did take everything in my power not to tell them “Yes, we do all fight lions and ride on elephants.”
While I see going overseas as a great opportunity for myself, I honestly don’t see moving to America as the be and end all goal for myself. I want to go there because I feel it is a chance to reinvent myself and expose myself to a culture that will show me more of my own interests and what I need to feel more fulfilled. However, I also know that, in not too long, this lifestyle I will experience there will soon become the norm for me as well, just like Africa did.
As more of my life moves to the United States, less of my own curiosity will be able to come with it. Because of this, I don’t actually see myself as having a destination yet. Just a series of steps and locations with no end in sight. There are other places in the world that I want to go to as well. More things that I want to experience. Other versions of myself that have taken in the essence of these different areas that I would like to meet. All of it. And in order to do that, I know that I have to keep my mind open to all of the new possibilities of not letting things stay the same for too long.
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
― Lao Tzu
The changes you’ll see in yourself from traveling won’t happen instantly. They will come from every restaurant you go to where you realize they don’t have your usual burger or rack of lamb, so you will have to make do with the first new thing you try. It will come from the first pretty stranger you meet that asks you to dance in a way you don’t know to a song whose lyrics you can’t understand. And from every statue that you notice when you're walking and take the time to find out why it was put up.
When I say people need to consider the places they’re going to and who they are before they travel, I mean they need to consider what are the norms they are used to, how these places will challenge them, and who they will be after taking the time to be exposed to these different cultures.