“So how many years have you travelled for so far?”
“Almost two. I quit my job to travel, in February 2015, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”
“And you said you lived in United Kingdom for a couple of years while studying, right? That makes it four man. Not two.”
I clearly remember how a small conversation with a fellow traveller made my day, during one of the evenings at Agonda, in South Goa. I suddenly felt proud, and moreover realised that I’d always underrated my travel stint. It really have been 4 years, accumulatively, that I’ve been exploring the world. Though of course I won’t consider myself a traveller for the time I lived in UK, but it wouldn’t be wrong, even if I did!
When I’d initially moved to Scotland, to complete my master’s degree, there was nobody I knew. Sure my sister stayed in England, some 700 kilometres in the South, but technically speaking I was on my own, and in a land I was barely accustomed to.
And since it was my first life experience ever, outside the boundaries of India (and New Delhi, for that matter) I had no clue what to expect. The food looked alien, local customs felt strange, even the kind of English people spoke there was no less surprising. Simply put, I was a stranger in a strange land!
For the first few weeks I felt almost similar to how you feel when you come out of the airport, for the first time, in a new country. From taxis to traffic lights – everything felt strange. I’d enter a supermarket and exit buying a few pack of biscuits, a good combination of bread & jam, and a pack of 12 eggs, because they were the only products that looked familiar. This is moreover the case, when you’d dined in a country like India for all your life, and then suddenly one day you wake up somewhere in Europe where people considered fish and chips a proper food. You do not believe life can be so different!
That was more or less my story, at least for the initial few weeks – or months, I can’t remember – when I first landed in UK. I sure went there to pursue a college degree, but the experience was no different from that of traveling.
So am I saying that studying abroad is as good an experience as travelling?
Perhaps! Or perhaps not!
When you’re in a different country, your mind pulls you towards your own community. You look for more Indians (if you’re from India) to speak with, and to share your experiences with, so that you feel at home. And it particularly happens when you’re there for a much longer time.
I remember during my university days, there was a group of Indian students, around 7 of them, who happened to share a dormitory, inside the university campus. Now the problem was, because they found a comfort zone in being one among the 7-happy-and-young-Indians-ruling-the-streets-of-Britain, they never felt a need to mix up with other communities – to befriend a German, or hang out with a Chinese.
Though they were blissfully content doing what they did, the problem was, their lifestyle did them no favour. All 7 of them, returned to India, right after finishing their college degree because they made it too tough for themselves to fit in.
If something similar is the case with you, consider studying abroad, no different than studying in your home country. And such an experience is definitely far from travelling a new country and experiencing a new culture.
But if you embrace the change more positively, mix up with other communities and look forward to enjoy a few dinner turkeys on Thanksgiving, then it can be a much more invigorating experience altogether. And in that case consider yourself no less than a long term slow traveller.
Speaking about myself, I was somewhere in between. Neither a socialite, nor a reclusive.
Looking Back In Time
For the initial few months, as I remember, I did nothing exciting. I would take a bus straight from my rented flat to the university, and vice-versa, minding my own business. I hardly ate out, or explored the city after university hours, or during weekends.
But as the time went past, and my reclusive nature withdrew, slowly as it happened, things became easier. I soon found a part time job, befriended a few people – representing different communities, and even planned my first ever weekend trip, out of town.
Though now that I look back at my initial few months in UK, I sure consider myself as a dubious, insecure little fellow. But it was because of those unsure moments, and cautious explorations of a foreign/uncustomary world around me – that a seed of travelling was germinated inside of me.
I remember how exploring the alien streets in Scotland, for the first few months, felt no less than an adventure. I was in pursuit of the Alexander in me. And he somehow always dwelled thereafter.
Studying Abroad – A Right Thing For Everyone?
I think studying abroad is a great way to expose yourself to new cultures and accept new realities. And as you’ve a much longer period of time with you, it is moreover easier for your introvert nature to slowly step back, at its own pace, allowing yourself to easily blend in.
It is a phenomenal opportunity for an international exposure, learning a novel language and culture, and moreover feeling confident in being different communities – which you’ll eventually have to do at some point in your life. However, financial issues and nostalgia can bring in some vacillations about taking the decision to study abroad.
But I believe when our interests and this world are so broad, why not study abroad? 😉