Voyagez et apprenez

How studying abroad changed my perspectives on America and myself

Kyle Morrison, Guest Writer

Student Kyle Morrison stopping to take a selfie on one of his outings during his study abroad trip. (Courtesy of Kyle Morrison)

I think that everyone with the financial means should study abroad at some point in their college experience. Last year at this time, I was evaluating my options to get my mandatory language credit Seattle Pacific requires for graduation. I was given the option of learning French, my language of choice, in France or in an SPU classroom. The choice was easy and I immediately made plans to pack my bags in the fall and prepare for my new experience.

My time in France has been a whirlwind of new experiences that has made me re-examine my place in the world, re-evaluate how I treat other people and come to terms with my own personal weaknesses and insecurities in a way that has forced growth and maturity.

I finished the 2020-2021 school year at Seattle Pacific University with a pretty self-important attitude. I had just finished a year as news editor of The Falcon where it felt like my team and I were breaking new, hard hitting stories almost every day. I hosted two podcasts, I got straight A’s and I was an RA. I won’t lie, I was pretty full of myself and my own seemingly major accomplishments.

Moving to a foreign country, where I barely speak the language, has shown me how small I really am and how much I have to learn. Nothing is more humbling than walking into a room full of Europeans, all of whom speak two, three, maybe even four or more languages, and watch as they seamlessly switch from language to language in a matter of seconds.

In the United States we see people who speak other languages as extremely talented and rare individuals. In Europe, it’s commonplace. The fact that any American would have the audacity to criticize immigrants from other countries for not speaking English is astounding and incredulously disrespectful, especially considering how well I, a unilingual ignorant American, have been treated in a foreign country.

The people I have met at my University, and in Lyon as a whole, have been so welcoming and helpful that it almost seems unreal. When I walked in the door on my move in day with three other Americans, we were welcomed in English by a welcome committee of residents from throughout the hall. Could you imagine an American dorm hall immediately offering to speak Spanish or French to a foreign student, without special accommodation or instruction?

The students all offer to cook me free food. Almost every single one has asked me out to get drinks. In the city, strangers have invited my friends and I out clubbing with no context, random people hug each other on the street and restaurants will give you free drinks just for being a kind customer.

My experience in Europe has shown me that I, along with many other Americans, have a kindness problem and an ignorance problem. Our country prioritizes individual needs over community needs. We live in a society where peers and fellow men are seen as competitors and not as human beings struggling through the same life we are.

We take a hollow, one angle view at humanity and the world. We refuse to learn other languages, we are weary of newcomers, and we refuse to acknowledge that maybe, people in other countries do things just as well, if not better, than we do.

This is not to say that France and Europe are perfectly welcoming places. France has a major Islamophobia problem and they are going through some of the same immigration and refugee issues that the United States is at the moment. But beyond politics, my American compatriots on this trip, who represent almost every region, nationality, and religion in the states, have almost universally praised the French for their kindness and hospitality.

Thank God for their kindness too, because living on a new continent, after 21 years of being in the same place, is extremely scary. I am forced out of my comfort zone everyday, by culture shock and other new challenges. Studying abroad has forced me to learn how to be easy going and roll with the punches. If I were to freak out about every unforeseen challenge and misstep that’s happened this semester, I’d probably never leave my dorm room. The experience has made me more adaptable, open and resilient.

I still miss home, but I have a new perspective on it. I see new ways that I can utilize the lessons and new perspectives I have, and will continue to learn here before the semester is up. I have become adaptable, ready for whatever scenario that might come my way. Ultimately, the fact that the world is so small and my place in it is even smaller has made me happier and more content with my life.

These are the lessons I’ve learned, and it’s because of these lessons and new experiences that I believe all financially capable individuals should make plans to study abroad. It broadens one’s horizons, allows one to meet new, interesting people, and will force an acknowledgement of new perspectives.