It might be a little early to talk about how I’ve changed during this experience… but oops, looks like I already have again and again and again. But remember, change is constant and that one moment when you realize you have changed is a strange, yet good one—unless you’ve become an asshole. That just means you’re growing wrong.
Flash back to me at the beginning of this journey. I wouldn’t exactly say I was an asshole, but I would say that I could’ve been less judgmental… although my friends back home described me as “open,” “quirky,” and “friendly.” So, arriving in Grenoble, that’s exactly who I thought I was: open and friendly to everyone; quirky only to those that could take it.
So you can imagine my surprise when a friend here told me after a few months that I needed to learn to give people more chances to prove themselves, that I wrote potential friends off too quickly.
Back at home, I’d managed to convince myself that I should be choosy in friendship in order to avoid the dreaded “obligation friends” that sucked the life out of me; that I should have friendship standards. I’d had too many obligatory friends while I was in college and by senior year, I’d changed that. My precious time was spent with people I deemed interesting enough; by senior year, I had surrounded myself with only people that I enjoyed being around. Together, we would tear up the town, conjure completely weird yet hilarious scenarios in our heads, and most importantly, we never felt obligated to invite anyone.
It was somewhat of a cliquey and superficial thing to operate on, creating simultaneously a feeling of being special (if we weren’t swayed by obligations, that means everyone present was well liked) and juuuust a bit of anxiety (what if one off-day, you did something that would land you in the obligation pile? That fine line between good-weird and bad-weird). However, because it was exactly what I’d been looking for since freshman year, I was satisfied of having come so far from my not-exactly-cool high school days.
What I didn’t understand at the time was the difference in giving someone a chance at the beginning and cutting the obligatory ones out after having gotten to know them. Of course, the former is much easier to do than the latter. We know it as “writing someone off” whereas the latter we know as “being a bad friend” and “hell no that’s too awkward so I’ll just suffer.”
But here I am, four months later, finally coming to that realization. I realize that I was a bit more shallow than I like to admit; I realize that I relied too much on visual and social cues and not enough on my heart, as corny as it is to say.
It’s a little different on the road. When you hop on a plane and integrate yourself into a different culture with different social rules, you don’t know what’s considered normal or strange. And, as a result, you learn to give first, second, and sometimes fifth impressions; you learn to discover someone’s core before making any calls. For me, this was extremely beneficial and helped me become more open to others… especially after moving into my international residence.
In my residence, there are about 70+ students coming from over 20 countries. Each student comes with his or her set of social behaviors that must be thrown out of the window when meeting another international student—or fully embraced, of course. Each culture presents emotions and states of minds in a different manner. And each person must withhold judgement until you truly get to know each other through multiple conversations and multiple nights out.
I wasn’t used to this. (This is making me sound like an asshole. What did I tell you at the beginning?) Growing up in a certain society, you learn about social stigmas—what’s considered socially acceptable and what’s considered socially bizarre. And, despite being aware that there are these social constructs, you can’t help being swayed by these forces unless you actively try to destroy them. For example, in the states, excessive touching, talking super close to each other’s faces, and too many emoticons in your messages are all a bit strange, socially. I was used to trusting my ability of reading people—which I was pretty good at within my culture—and going off of the first impression. Immediately, I could distinguish between the people that I would write off and the people that I would want to befriend, hardly giving anyone a second chance.
After having stayed in this residence for about 3 months, now, I can tell that I’m doing things differently. My “standards” have changed, broadened. Sure, there would be some things about someone that are strange to me (for example, constantly quoting How I Met Your Mother), but I have learned to look past that and to appreciate the intention behind a person’s actions. Of course, I still like hanging out with people who are quirky, funny, and wanderers at heart, but I’ve learned that sometimes they come packaged a little differently.
At the time when I thought I could no longer be surprised at people, I was.
People that I wrote off in the beginning as being a little too lame, too eager, too aloof, too immature all became some of my closest friends. There were some that I thought I wasn’t connecting to at all at first before I realized that they just didn’t express the hyper-joy of finding a new friend that I had been used to in the states. This happened in reverse, as well: the people that I thought were really chill turned out to be assholes; the people that I thought were quirky were just assholes.
It’s such a learning experience to know that you can still change; and I will be forever thankful that I have been able to allow it to happen instead of resisting it. I’m not advising you to stop cutting out toxic friends or friends that drain your energy; I want to advise you to not get locked in cliques, to really get to know someone before you decide. Yes, it may be more difficult to cut them off (you may have grown attached, they may be hurt, etc), but it’s better than casting aside what may become your best friend.
Now that I know how many doors and friendships have come to fruition because I delayed judgment, I’m stubbornly going to continue doing this when I get back to the states. Kindness makes itself known; beautiful souls make themselves known. All you have to do is accept them. And to hell with what anyone thinks.