Wow. I’ve been home from East Asia for a couple weeks, and in that time I’ve had the chance to reflect on all that I saw and learned while abroad. I’m definitely missing the city I was in, the family and group of nationals that we worked with each day, and the group of students, teachers, and leaders that I traveled with. Everywhere I turn, I see things that remind me of my East Asian adventure.
This chance of a lifetime has definitely changed me. Because this was a medical mission trip, it changed me in more ways than one. I learned a lot about what type of nurse I want to be. I learned that I want to be the nurse that doesn’t let cultural differences define her practice and the way she treats her patients. I want to be educated on the complementary and alternative therapies of different cultures that I may encounter with my future patients. I want to always love first, and never let language barriers interfere with the care that I am giving. On a spiritual side, I learned that I often take my church knowledge for granted. I assume that everyone grows up knowing and understanding the same things that I know and believe. To be immersed in a culture that had never even heard of half of what I was telling them was something that I’ll never be able to forget. I learned that just the simplest smile or touch can convey so many things. People just want to know that you care and that you are there to listen to them. That desire doesn’t change from culture to culture.
Reverse culture shock comes in waves now that I’m home. I don’t have to wonder whether or not the bathroom is going to have a “western toilet” or if I’m going to have to use a “squatty potty.” I don’t have to dread being served white rice with every meal. But I also look at the people I’m surrounded by now and wonder, “How did we get here?” People can be so ungrateful and wasteful, taking far too much advantage of all the privileges we have in America. I get frustrated when I try to explain how things are done in East Asia and people just don’t care.
My advice to future study abroad students would be to totally immerse yourself. Do as the people in your host country do. And take time to soak everything in. Stop and smell the roses. Don’t be consumed by bouncing from one activity and tourist attraction to the next that you don’t notice the people around you. Keep a journal, because one day you’re going to want to remember that funny incident that happened on your second day abroad, or your encounter with a local who just couldn’t figure out what you were trying to ask them. Take lots of pictures, but be sure to take mental images too. Pictures never do a landscape justice. Whatever you do, show love to the people in your new country. Make the University of Alabama proud, and make a difference wherever you go.