Jordan Machtelinckx is an International Ambassador for the office of International Degree and Education Abroad. He is a student at Oregon State University, majoring in Civil Engineering. Jordan studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, through CIEE. Below, he provides a reflection of what he learned from his experience abroad.
Every day while I was studying at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and living with my host family, I was observing and learning. A foreign environment made my senses acute to absorb as much information as possible. Learning is inevitable in that context, but understanding the dynamics I was observing took time.
Throughout my life and over the course of my travels, I’ve learned that at least half of the lessons I learn come about after my return home. After cultural immersion in South Africa, I didn’t realize how much I had learned until I got back into a familiar environment that, for the most part, remained constant during my absence. My home culture in Oregon acted as a control to help me understand what I had learned in my absence and measure how I had changed.
The most obvious way I saw that South Africa had changed me was in the form of patience. Not just temporal patience, but particularly situational and interpersonal patience. After having my outlook and personality stretched and reshaped during my immersion in so many cultures over the course of six months, I noticed that I couldn’t really find anything in my daily life back in Oregon that bothered me anymore; personalities, attitudes and actions that I didn’t understand before and that I used to find irritating now seemed to float by me without effect and usually resulted in only a smile on my face whose source I couldn’t identify.
Stunned at first that just about nothing managed to annoy me, it stimulated me to figure out why. Where did this patience come from? What had happened in the last six months to make me reach some sort of peace that I could see only indirectly? Even as I write this, months after my return and having pondered the thought constantly, I can turn up only a basic, indefinite answer – one that provokes additional questions more than it provides an answer to the original one. That answer is simply that I have become closer with myself, better friends with myself, even.
Throwing myself into an experience in which I had to provide all of my own strength and motivation has resulted in better self-understanding and acceptance of who I am. That’s logical enough. And I could have guessed that would happen before I left. But I didn’t expect it to result in a fundamental change in my daily outlook upon my return to Oregon. I still have a lot of understanding to reach with my experience in Cape Town, and a lot more travel in the future to stimulate more of this personal philosophy. As usual, the disparity between the plethora of questions and the handful of poorly articulated answers will serve as motivation to continue to explore physically, metaphysically and philosophically. But for now, I am quite content with this newly found peace, this traveler’s Zen.