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The Blue & Gray Press | April 25, 2018

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Study Abroad to Open Mind to New Culture

By STEPHANIE LICHIELLO
Guest Columnist

What defines a person? I am no philosopher nor am I particularly interested in the subject. Nevertheless, I have often thought about this question in regard to my own life.

The answer, however, is purely subjective and must be taken as such. Why then, does our society continue to define individuals based on religion, political affiliation, sexual preference or nationality? In a country founded on freedom, it seems ironic that we continue to look down upon the less fortunate, target the non-native and belittle the individuals unlike ourselves.

Whether the excuse is intimidation, stereotypical views, or simply ignorance, there has to be a point where acceptance becomes the norm and inequality becomes a thing of the past. Every day, we find ourselves meeting people of various backgrounds.

Some of these people come from broken homes, are individuals that practice non-traditional customs or are struggling just to get by.

Having traveled abroad this summer in a country where my language skills were less than adequate, I found myself with little resources to cling to while immersed in a foreign culture.

I was taken aback by the pace of the individuals and their lifestyle, the food they prepared and even the mullet haircuts that they had.

However, I embraced the culture and I adapted to eating French fries with every meal, walking nearly 30 minutes to school every day, and relying on public transportation for the first time in my life.

Everyone should strive to have this experience at some point in their life. Maybe your passion is building houses in Honduras, spending a summer backpacking through Europe or joining the Peace Corps after college.

Even if you do not have the resources, time or money to go abroad, make an effort to get out of your comfort zone. Befriend the quiet kid in your biology class, visit a non-denominational church on a random Sunday or reach out to the elderly when you see the opportunity.
These experiences define me.

Now a senior in college and looking back on the last four years, I have gained not only a better sense of who I am, but also a greater understanding of where others come from.

One’s upbringing can shape not only their personality, but also their beliefs. I have come to recognize why people believe the things they do and what makes them different.

While I have sat in nearly 40 classrooms during my time at Mary Washington, I strongly believe that the information I learned in a tri-weekly 50-minute class does not amount to the life lessons gained from my interactions with other people.

I am, by no means, a saint. I find myself tangled up in the same problems as any other college student. However, my problems and my mistakes do not define me.

It is the experiences I have and what I take away from them that make me who I am. I challenge you to try something new, be slow to judge and always find a way to learn from every experience.