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Is it better to fit in or embrace the new?

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Reading time: 4 minutes
We have all been there: getting into a new environment and not knowing anything about it. There are two ways to handle it - which one will you choose?
girl walking on an abandon train rails

There are plenty of situations when you feel lost because nothing is familiar. You may move to another district, city, or country. A new circle of friends requires a lot of unravelling new personalities. Changing your job is full of the unknown.  

I went through all of these situations and I have to say it: I handled all of them in a way that I do not like. 

I was going on Erasmus and I was terrified of all the new things that I have to learn. I think we all have felt this at some point. I started to freak out on the plane. The only coherent thought that I had was: “I want to get used to it as quickly as possible”.

It is what I do every time - I want to know everything. If you are familiar with things, there is nothing to stress about. There is a flow, a routine to your life and you are in full control of it. You do not have to think twice about the small details that build your comfort. When you go on exchange, those small details are not familiar anymore. Even things that are supposed to be the same in every single country feel differently.

I remember how I handled public transportation. I simply could not get on the tram because I did know how to pay, where number 9 went, what kind of ticket I should get. So I walked around 10 km every day during my first week because I did not want to put myself into the stress of getting to know new things.

train station
credit: Maksym Kaharlytskyi

I felt like it was embarrassing to ask someone for help. Here they were, people who used trams for their entire lives and who do not put a spare thought into it, and here I was, unable to manage the basics. Why are you asking such dumb questions, it is so easy! 

I also felt like I am bothering people by asking. It is like being an annoying kid in the body of an adult.

So in order to not bother anyone and to not be scared of doing something wrong, I rushed through getting to know things. I just wanted the new to be over as quickly as possible and I tried my best to fake that I knew everything perfectly, even though I had no idea whether it is my building for humanities or I ended up in the physics department. I just wanted to be like everyone else, so no one will think that I am somehow different and know nothing, apparently. It cost me a lot of effort to keep the face and I had to figure out everything on my own.

Now that my exchange is over and the only thing I can do is to repeat it all in my head, I realised that it is not a good approach.  

New things are not scary, they are exciting. Erasmus gets you in the most unique position that you will ever be in: you are able to be amazed by the simplest things all over again. You go to a coffee shop and realise that most people are sipping their tea outside, even though it is below zero. You greet people with “Hallo” that sounds so different because you used an entirely different word for that before. You try to lend a book in the library and there is not an old lady who writes down everything in a big notebook but an automat. These are mundane things that you have done thousands of times in your life, yet, it feels like it is your first. 

explore flag
credit: Andrew Neel

You are not embarrassing yourself. You came to study for the whole semester to another country and that is more than some people will ever dare to do. You were strong enough to overcome all your fears, to leave your friends and family behind, to learn the basics from the start while not using your native language. You are not dumb, you are smart enough to take the chance and go abroad. 

You are not bothering anyone. Many people are willing to help. Have you ever thought that another student asking for directions was bothering you? You were probably happy to get them to the place, even if you had to open your Google maps and get through the language barrier. People are going to do the same for you. 

It may seem easier to fit in, to quickly get back into the bubble of knowing things. However, you miss out so much and it is hard indeed. You do not give yourself time to be amazed by how new old deeds feel, you rather deny all the feelings and pretend like nothing unusual is happening. There is nothing peaceful about exploring everything on your own, stressing about how long it takes you and faking confidence all the time - it is just tiring. 

So allow yourself to not know things. Be proud of it.