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What leaving for the unknown can turn into – a genuine analysis of my year abroad

di Lucia Finotello (VG scientifico)


Lucia Finotello, a student of the fifth year at Bruno, told us about her mesmerizing year abroad in Germany, with all the difficulties and the opportunities of such an immersive experience in another culture and reality. This year meant for her an extraordinary occasion to grow and she decided to share it with us. Enjoy the reading!


The reasons behind the decision

Choosing to experience the unknown can be scary, at first. It can feel risky, for sure. And yet almost everybody will agree it’s somehow unbelievably exciting. The most accredited theories state that change derives from dissatisfactionDissatisfaction often assumes a negative sense; it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that. Dissatisfaction, analyzed and conveniently transformed, can turn into a push to go further, to work harder, to be better and to do better than what you have done until that moment. And change – choosing to change – is only the first step of the ladder. My choice to leave came from a general and subtle feeling of dissatisfaction. Not that I had something specific to complain about; I just knew inside my heart that I needed something more.                                  Experiencing a year abroad, and doing it at a young age, is a weird experience. I’m not going to pretend it was the wonderful experience many dream about, making the exchange year sound like a myth of happiness and relaxation. Living in a foreign country without friends and family is like entering a room full of people you don’t know anything about. And staying there for a long while. It means feeling as an outcast, everywhere and in every moment. It means learning to live together with that feeling. 

The difficulties experienced

One of the worst parts of the experience, especially at the beginning, was expressing myselfMan is a social animal. If communication stands at the bottom of sociability, and language is our main form of communication, well, not knowing the language of the people you have to spend your time with can be a problem. Not being able to say what I wanted to say was commonplace, such as not being fast enough to reply or concentrated enough to understand. It was a constant fight with words, trying to force thoughts to exit my mouth, even if they did not want to, and they never did it in the right order. But a bad experience can teach you sometimes more than a positive one: I learned to have patience, not to force myself and not to feel like I needed to be perfect all the time. And it allowed me to be grateful towards the ones who really listened to me and to my incorrect sentences and horrible grammar. The ones who were willing to wait for my improvement, that obviously needed some time to occur. 


The advantages

The language and the social skills are probably the two main fields of the improvement I managed to reach during these months. They were not the only ones though: some other essential things concerned my independence and my critical thinking as well. Finding yourself at a huge distance from home, far away from every certainty and from the influence of the people who have always been influencing you can be hard at first. You realize soon you have to rely on yourself: because even if you are going to get help, you should be able to understand that the people that love you are not there with you; and the people who are there with you, are not the ones you spent your life with. At the same time, getting to know people who have a different view and experience of the world is extremely enriching. They give you new “material” to think about, they help you see things from another perspective. Something that can cause a little disorientation at first – and that is actually a wonderful tool as soon as you enter the right mindset.  I think the real, effective change happens as you go back home. Where you realize that you are different from the person you were before, you acknowledge the differences and elaborate them. In the moment you decide that some of the “usual” things about your life before are not going to be in your life any longer. In the moment you bring your knowledge, your experience and your improvement into the life you used to live.  Apart from the “psychological” part, this year gave me many occasions to practically experience something new. Things that I would have probably never experienced if I had stayed home. I tried horse riding, I went watching football matches with my host dad, I learned to catch trains at the right times and to go visit other cities on weekends, and to love second-hand clothing shops and potatoes, such as every German does. I’ve become a better cook, I’ve managed to enjoy walking along empty country roads, to live in a village of less than a thousand souls, to share my bed with a cat named Meggy. I learned to have a younger sister and to be the eldest one, once in a while. To come along with everyone, even with the ones you wouldn’t trust at first.  Last but not least, I learned not to rely on prejudices. A rule that everybody knows, but that is actually extremely difficult to follow when you find yourself being face to face with the prejudice itself. Germany, and in particular Saxony-Anhalt  – where I spent my year abroad – feels like a quite sad reality, looking at it as an outsider. A cold place, with cold people and horrible food, many would say. It’s much more than what it seems, and it gave me much more than I could have expected. Because, at the end of the day, it’s the people you meet who make such an experience unforgettable – both positively and negatively. Happiness comes from finding compromises, and from finding what’s good in the mass of bad things that you could consider. Or at least from choosing to turn a blind eye on those. I’ve been lucky, that’s true. But I also managed to adjust what was wrong, to accept my limits in certain occasions or to overtake them in others; to adapt to the situation or to transform it. 

The year abroad as an occasion to grow

This experience allowed me to go beyond. It allowed me to perceive that there’s more. More than what I’ve been taught, and much more I have not discovered yet. It let me find out a different way of conceiving school, family, friends, weekends, times and places; and it let me try them, to decide only later if I liked them or not, if I could bring some of them home. I left Italy thinking I could give a chance to the mindset that everybody can teach you somethingAnd I’ve come home with the certainty that it’s been worth it. 

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