New Year’s fireworks display over Palm Jumeirah in the Arabian Gulf.
Last semester. Fall 2013.
Basically, lots of wow’s.
I don’t remember ever being so stressed out… but also feeling like it was all worth it. It was the most academically and personally challenging semester I have had. Being in a tough situation is a great experience, because you get to see what you’re made of and how you handle pressure. And if you’ll crack. Or if you’ll worry too much and freak out. I didn’t crack, but I did worry and freak out.
I was taking 15 credit hours at my host university and 6 credit hours of online classes back home. I ended up dropping a class at my home university, and getting the first two B’s of my college career. I had juggled 24 credit hours and a job in the past and gotten straight A’s, so to be so challenged by a much smaller workload was a humbling experience. I had to make some decisions about priorities, and choose what was more important: straight A’s or social opportunities? Even if ‘straight A’s’ is replaced with ‘good grades’ in that last question, it was hard to find a balance since both are pretty important. I mean, I aspire to live in something nicer than a box someday, but having friends is also a rather desirable outcome.
During one exam, I put down my pencil, covered my face with my hands, and wondered how I would tell my mom I failed a class. I even began planning what paperwork I would fill out to retake the class back home so I could graduate. But the hardest part was when I was convinced for about a week that I would lose all of my scholarships. If my semester GPA dropped below a 3.0, I was going to lose over $13,500 in scholarships…
Thank God for curves. Academic ones, of course. Although many people also enjoy the physical ones.
When final grades came in, I got four A’s and two B’s. So I kept all of my scholarships. Once again, thank God for curves.
The semester ended in mid-January, so it felt like this was all drawn out for too way long. But as I said, it was so worth it. It was great to have the pressure of taking hard classes at the best university in the region with brilliant professors, all while adjusting to a different culture… and to actually succeed! (even if I had to make a new definition for success!) A while ago I heard an interview with the Tiger Mom, the woman who wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (click here for the Wikipedia article). My favorite point was that children should feel self-confident after having accomplished something. Sort of that parents should help children accomplish something that the child can be proud of, and use this as a source of self-esteem. This is instead of making children feel confident before accomplishing something, because this sort of self-esteem is more fragile. My point is, I feel much more confident in my own abilities after working my butt off and having it all work out in the end. I proved to myself that I can do it!
Of course, the most rewarding part of the experience is the hardest one to put into words, it’s the people I’ve met. Before arrival, I was worried to death that I wouldn’t make any local friends, but I was quickly proven wrong. I’m grateful that this is how my exchange turned out, since I saw other exchange students leaving the country having made few local friends… however, I don’t think that was their goal in the first place.
There’s something very special about my relationship to this country. I say my relationship, because not everyone will feel the same way. I feel at home here. I could be caught up in the magic of a study abroad, but I love the local culture and mindset because they’re very relaxing and less stressful. For example, I was speaking to a Korean exchange student who said she prefers it here because it’s less competitive.
So all in all, it’s been a great experience. I hope this post doesn’t scare anyone off from study abroad at this university, because they can choose a program that is suited to their needs. It’s possible to study abroad and have your credits transfer as Pass/Fail, for example.
In the end, an exchange is what you make of it, and being abroad will teach you a lot about who you are and what you want.