When my parents offered me the chance to spend part of my ninth grade summer in Europe by myself, I was overjoyed. This was the opportunity of a lifetime! I love to travel, to learn, and to have fun, so going overseas sounded amazing because I could do all three.
After applying to The American School in Switzerland, or TASIS, and submitting a recommendation letter from my language teacher, I was selected to attend a six week French program in Lugano, Switzerland. Before experiencing TASIS, I thought Shepton High School, which is filled with teens of all different races and ethnicities, was as diverse as it could get. What I did not realize then was that, although everyone at my school has a different background, we all share the same American culture. So kissing my parents goodbye, I was off to Switzerland!
When I stepped off the plane, it was obvious that I was not in Texas anymore (or Kansas for that matter!), where the land is flat and the air is scorching hot. Instead, I was among vast mountain ranges and air as crisp as it was clear! I was no longer in the American culture, so I immersed myself into a lifestyle which was not familiar to me. As I looked at my breathtaking surroundings, I remembered words said by Robert Louis Stevenson, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” I was the one who had to learn how to be part of this new land, starting by saying “Buongiorno” to every person who walked by!
Being at TASIS meant more to me than just the travel, learning, and fun. It also meant I was recognized for my intellectual abilities by TASIS, and for my responsibility and independence by my parents; they trusted me enough to send me “across the pond.” Once in the program, I was encouraged to move outside of my comfort zone and develop relationships with more than 30 other students from all over the world. A 14 year old girl from Jordan, a 16 year old boy from Russia, a 15 year old girl from Chile...these were just a few of my classmates with whom I shared ideas and feelings. This camaraderie made me very aware of our international community, and by making new friends, I was able to recognize the similarities in spite of the differences among people. So while this opportunity was intended to be an educational trip, I was surprised to find it became a personal journey as well.
Obviously I went to TASIS to learn French, but what I left with were relationships and memories. Arriving back home, I realized that Texas had not changed; it is still hot and flat. I, however, have grown immensely. Even after this relatively brief journey, I have come to learn more about both myself and others. Although I was open-minded and non-judgmental before TASIS, this experience showed me how important these qualities are in developing friendships and recognizing what we all share in common: our hopes, dreams, and desires. Our differences pale in comparison to our similarities, and our uniqueness is what makes us interesting. This realization will forever influence my view of life and how I approach problems. I respect the differences of all, yet still value their opinions. Being more aware than ever of the unique characteristics and personalities of a variety of different people, I now try to look at situations as others may see them.
This is not the end of my personal journey, nor of my growth and understanding of how I can be a component of change in the future. I now recognize that, no matter where we live or what we do, we will always find people who share the same human values, and our similarities will draw us together more than our differences will push us apart.
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