When I was 20 years old, I had the chance to stay in Germany for half a year as an exchange student through the JTA program of Ateneo de Manila University. Having to live on my own in a place like Germany seemed to open so many exciting possibilities. I expected to meet new and interesting people, learn about the local culture and live the lifestyle. It was all such an ideal scenario in my head that I couldn’t help but feel as if nothing could go wrong, that there’s nothing I couldn’t do. Soon enough, I was able to prove that.
Each new experience beginning from day 1 drew out life skills I never thought I had, simply because I had to make use of them. In spite of everything being so new to me, I learned the basics like cooking, cleaning my room, cleaning the toilet, budgeting my expenses, doing the groceries, maglaba. I basically took care of my own small household. Though I had the fears of getting lost, kidnapped or getting into any accident, I chose to grow up and be independent enough to navigate my way by learning how to read a map and finding the best routes around the city –to the point that I was even able to travel from Germany to Austria all by myself!
Getting around and meeting new people taught me to communicate in new ways too. There was an instance when I was at the supermarket and this nice old lady made animal sounds like “moo”, “oink oink!” and “quack quack!” because she thought I couldn’t understand what I was buying. I greatly appreciated her help back then but I’m really glad that eventually I was able to speak the basics of the German language and converse with the locals. Needless to say, living abroad alone even for just a brief period of time taught me things I didn’t know I could do. It taught me how to look after myself.
We travel to discover and learn new things. We travel not just to know more about the places we visit, but whether we admit it or not, it’s to discover new things about ourselves too. During my visit to Germany, I learned one valuable lesson: We are adaptable beings. We are made to survive and thrive with the skills that we’ve got, but also with the help of others. I joined Ateneo’s JTA program with the intention of learning as much as I could as an exchange student in Germany. After my whole experience, I can honestly say that I did learn a lot –and I would do it all over again in a new place at a different time, and with more space for new lessons and experiences.