The Identity Crisis That Comes After Your Exchange

My exchange affected my life in many ways. So many ways that I am not even aware of most of them, probably. What I do know is that it set my apart from other people, and not in the elitist kind of way. In a way that it makes you weird. You look like a social and open minded person, and people dig that. People admire your sense of adventure and think you are a cool person to hang out with because you have some nice stories.

But the truth is that after a while you realize you just don’t really fit in. Anywhere. And after starting one or two stories with “During my exchange..¨  people have heard enough and start asking if you can talk about anything else. They ask if you are planning to travel anywhere else, as if your exchange was just a trip, or when you are going somewhere they act surprised when you tell them it is “only for one month”, as if I am suddenly going to move to another place.

It makes me feel like I don’t fit in anywhere except with other exchange students. Even expats don’t understand because they have the liberty to stay in their own little community. But as an exchange student you HAD to fit in. You couldn’t just stay in your room all day and cook your own food. You had to go to weird ceremonies that you didn’t understand. You had to struggle with both the language and cultural miscommunications all the time and that is something that people will never understand.

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When I say I want to go somewhere people always say “Oh yeah I want to go there too!” and it made me feel like there are many people like us, that many people are willing to explore. And that is true. Many people are. But it’s actually going for it that sets us apart. I hear so many plans around me and NOBODY goes through with it. People sharing amazing travel quotes. “I would gladly live out of a suitcase if that meant I could see the world”. Well then go for it! Because seeing the world means living out of a suitcase. It means struggling with money, but apparently you would ‘gladly’ do it. So go. But people just want the happy times. They want the parties, the good food, but not the struggle of not being able to express your opinion in the way you’d like to, or having people misunderstand you. Of not having friends and family around. Of feeling lost sometimes.

But then at the same time, I am not doing it either. I am back in my home country and just entered my first year of University, and every single day I wonder what I am doing here. I really enjoy my study, I really enjoy the city I lived in and I have met some people here that I really care about, but this is not it. I find education VERY important and my study offers a semester abroad and this is maybe the only thing keeping me going right now. Because as much as I like it here, it is no challenge. I get good grades easily and even though I am learning a language it is not going nearly as fast as it would go if I were actually living in another place.

I tell myself I need to do this because it’s what everybody else does. Get a degree, get a job, get a family. But I feel that that is not what is going to happen. Not in the traditional way. And I wouldn’t want it to either.

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This blog is called ‘Nationality Unknown’ because I feel like I am stuck between countries, nationalities and personalities. When people ask me where I am from I have to tell them I am Dutch, but it’s not the whole story. I could tell them I am Panamanian but that is not true either. Some friends from other countries joke “No you are not Dutch, you are latina!¨ and I laugh, but I know that it’s not true. I am Dutch, but I am not only Dutch.

The problem is that most people see their options and opportunities within their country. But as someone who has been abroad and who is not afraid of leaving everything behind to start something new I know there is way more out there. When I see job offers in Uruguay, Australia or South Korea, I see those as actual opportunities, actual ideas. But because you open your mind to all these ideas, it makes it more difficult to choose and more difficult to know what you want, because I want it all. Being abroad has awakened the so-called ‘Wanderlust’ inside me that makes it impossible to stop thinking in countries to live. Not even travel, actually live.

I guess that is the price you pay for going abroad. Once you have seen the world of opportunities, ways to do things, you realize there is not just one way and you wonder what is the ‘best’ way, while in reality there is no ‘best way’, which makes it all even more hard and confusing.

Still, if knowing this would happen I would get the choice again, I would do it in a heartbeat.

 

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