Moving to St. Petersburg, Russia for four months lovingly ripped me away from all I had been surrounded by while growing up in Oregon. A person’s beliefs are greatly shaped by their family, location, and culture, and I was raised with very similar beliefs to nearly everyone with whom I interacted. Many people who are born, raised, and stay within the same region for a long period of time may never truly be exposed to differing beliefs from their own. Once a person travels or moves to a different region and is exposed to people of different cultures, there can be real culture shock upon realizing how and why beliefs can differ. This was the case for me when I began traveling around the world, meeting people from different cultures and opening my eyes to new beliefs and values.
It was not that I didn’t know that these different values existed, but staying within your own community truly can convince you that the beliefs that you were raised on are the “correct” ones; being surrounded by those with the same beliefs as you for a long time can instill a disrespect, or even hatred, for the “incorrect” views of others. Although meeting different people and being exposed to new ideas and beliefs does not necessarily have to make you question or change your own beliefs, having a different perspective can help you develop empathy to see differing beliefs as two sides of a story rather than “correct” or “incorrect.”
Learning all this out in the real world rather than in a classroom has made all the difference in opening up my perspectives – no matter how often we learn about different cultures and worldviews in class, there’s no experience like actually meeting people who are completely different from you and learning about their lives and beliefs. As I prepare to graduate from college and move on into the real world, I realize that having a global perspective is one of the most useful tools is pursuing any career, especially my future profession in international politics. I believe that this is absolutely the most significant learning experience from my time abroad and that these newfound ideas will follow and shape me for the rest of my life.
Nadine Astrakhan, St. Petersburg, Russia