Recognizing aspects of yourself in others

3rd Blog: by Irina Varbanoa - Thursday, 5 January 2023, 1:46 PM
When I first arrived in Liechtenstein for my exchange semester, there were a lot of new impressions. For example, I was surprised by the cultural practice of greeting each other on the streets; especially by the fact that people greeted one another even if they didn’t know each other. At home, we only do that if we know the person and it is polite to have a little chat with them. In the beginning, I found greeting everybody on the street difficult to get used to but after a while, I began to appreciate the warmth and homely feeling it gave me. When I returned home, I had to adjust again to the more anonymous way of living and started to miss the greeting culture in Liechtenstein. 

Another cultural difference that made an impression on me, was the unfamiliar German dialect spoken by the locals. As someone who was used to the German spoken in Germany, it took me a while to understand what people were saying. But as the weeks went by, I began to get the hang of it and was grateful when locals met me halfway by using expressions that I knew.

In addition, I also experienced a different way of life in Liechtenstein – one that was much calmer and more relaxed compared to what I was used to. Conversely, living in the student dormitory was a bit different. There, I was part of a multicultural community where people from all over the world came together and shared their diverse values and practices. This was overwhelming at first, but as time went on, I began to recognize the similarities between my culture and those of the people I met. I found that practices from other Balkan countries were similar to those I knew from home, which helped me feel less foreign and more connected to the people around me.

But it wasn't just the similarities that stood out to me. I also encountered cultural differences that were difficult to understand or accept, which frustrated me at times. However, I tried to view these differences as opportunities for learning and found that they helped me expand my understanding of the world. Unsurprisingly, I also learned more about myself through this process, as I had to question my previous assumptions and beliefs, and I had to think more deeply about my values.

Looking back, I realize that several techniques helped me cope with the challenges I faced during my exchange semester. One of the most helpful things I did, was to observe my surroundings and try to understand what was happening before jumping to conclusions. I also asked a lot of questions whenever I didn't understand something and found that people were generally willing to help me once I had explained my problem or the way I understood something. Finally, I made sure to reach out to my friends and family whenever I felt homesick or needed encouragement or guidance. This helped me feel more connected to home and gave me the support I needed to get through some of the more difficult moments.

Overall, my exchange semester was an incredibly enriching and valuable experience. I learned much about different cultures and ways of life and connected with people from all over the world. I also learned more about myself as well as my values and developed skills that will stay with me for a lifetime.