Slowing Down

I have moved too fast, and processed too little.

When arriving in a new environment, we’re typically fueled by endless curiosity. We don’t want to miss a minute of what’s going on around us. So we keep going. Full speed ahead, we fill our schedule with itineraries for weekend trips and plans for the evening that leave us exhausted and crawling in to bed at 3am, day after day. We might acquire a strong fear of missing out (FOMO), say yes to every appealing option on the table, and will open ourselves up to new people and new experiences in order to feel full. And this way of life is not bad. It’s the way I’ve approached my study abroad experience so far, and it’s the way I’ve seen nearly every other exchange student approach theirs. From doing so, I have been able to do more than I imagined in just one month, see more of the city and the country, and meet lots of new people.

But the heavy repercussions of this lifestyle quickly sink in.

I have lost myself in the constant stream of interactions with new people and new places.

I’ve opened myself up to new people and a new environment in hopes of being well received and well liked, but seldom have these interactions been an expression of my true self. I have remained entirely neutral and repressed my personality to be as small and likable to the vast majority as possible- in hopes of adapting easier and building friendships faster. I have gone with the group more often than voicing my preference, out of convenience and social pressure. As someone who values authenticity above all else, I have hypocritically strayed away from doing so in order to achieve short-term positive emotional and social fulfillment.

Maybe this happened because it’s easy. It’s so easy to lose who you are in a country amongst people that’s all entirely new. It’s easy to go with the group and follow the crowd, be a lesser version of who you are to ensure ease of conversation. 

I think the real challenge lies in adapting and adjusting. Holding on to who you are at the core and not being afraid to be yourself in a world of new things. Actively adapting your personality to the environment that surrounds you, without losing who you are. To grow and continue to create yourself. Because if you lose who you are, then your experiences in these foreign lands belong to a person who you will no longer be when you go back home. You'll always long to return to who you were, feeling how you felt, when you were in this foreign land. And you’ll never find it. You’ll never be this person, have these feelings, and be with the same people in the same place in this moment ever again.

So I strive to appreciate these moments as me. To slow down and just be.

Jennifer Louie