Wednesday, 2 July 2014

My first experience living abroad

I have learnt many things during my year abroad. Sometimes I've felt inspired and other times I've learnt life's lessons the hard way. I clearly didn't know as many things about life as I thought I did. Firstly, I've learnt is that we can't please everyone. In fact, we shouldn't even try to please everyone. Unless you're superhuman, it’s pretty unlikely that everybody will like you. If we try to please everyone, we're probably going to end up getting hurt because we put ourselves in a vulnerable position where we can be taken advantage of. Perhaps people don't intend or even realise when they take advantage of us, but they still do it because that's just who they are and how they are used to living their lives. Something that we would really appreciate could not mean as much to them. If they're used to having things done for them, they might not think twice when you do something for them, but that's not necessarily their fault. Perhaps they aren't used to being responsible for things and will allow others to take responsibility until they are told otherwise. This leads to a lack of gratitude and too much self-entitlement. When I was a child my family always had enough money to provide for my basic needs and not much more. Therefore, I've been brought up knowing that if you want something, you have to work for it. If someone gives you something, you should be extremely grateful. I hope to bring my children up in the same way. Bringing a child up by handing everything to them on a silver plate will probably lead to their ungratefulness and a lack of an ability to compromise and share. They will end up having materialistic expectations of their parents and everybody else who is unfortunate enough to come into contact with them. Their expectations of what other people should do for them will be so high that they won't be able to appreciate what they are given and their sense of responsibility will be so low that they aren't able to give anything back.

If you're like me, you want to try to do things to be kind to people, sometimes even things that you don't particularly want to do. It annoys me if a person I help doesn't react in a way that I think is appropriate. However, it is true that this irritation is unjustified if I agree to do something that I didn't really want to in the first place. Furthermore, people's idea of what is appropriate varies and is dependent on their upbringing; therefore it is unlikely that everybody will fulfil each other's expectations. Even if you feel like you want to do something for someone, unless you know and trust them well, you are still putting yourself in a vulnerable position because you may not get the reaction that you were expecting. 

In trying to do something for someone and resenting it, you are hurting yourself and potentially the other person. I've decided I'm going to try to stop myself from getting to this stage by being honest and limiting my kindness when necessary, both of which aren't harmful if dealt with in the right way. You have to protect yourself and be very cautious about who you trust, especially as once somebody knows your weaknesses they are able to use them against you. Sometimes it is ok to say no to people with who you haven't developed a certain level of trust with.  It is better than saying yes and letting someone down, which can be equally or even more damaging. This may come as a shock at first if they aren't used to you refusing, but perhaps then they will start acknowledging what you have done for them in the past. If not, perhaps they will be in a similar situation in the future and they will realise what you did for them. I know I haven't always fully appreciated what someone has done for me until I've done the same for someone else. In the end, you see a person's true colours as soon as you stop being beneficial to their life.

I thought I was a good judge of character, but I'm not at all. The people who I've disliked at first have sometimes ended up being really important people in my life and those who I've liked at first have ended up causing me lots of problems. For this reason I don't consider first impressions to be as important as I used to, especially as people's first impressions of me don't always seem to be that great, depending on the situation. However, it's important to appear strong and hide your weaknesses as much as possible at first, otherwise people will walk all over you. If you trust somebody quickly and treat them as you would a close friend from the beginning, this sets the standard and determines their expectations of you, which are likely to increase even more as the friendship develops. If you realise that your trust was a mistake, it may be easy for the person to misinterpret your decision to back out and they may take offence, especially if they haven't yet accepted their own faults. Mean people don't bother me so much, but mean people who disguise themselves as nice people and get away with it bother me a lot. Some people have no limits to gaining control, even if that means crying crocodile tears and spreading rumours to try to turn people against you. If they need other people on their side, then obviously something isn't quite right. People will stab you in the back and then ask why you're bleeding. In this situation I think the best thing to do is to keep your distance and show that you aren't harmed by the situation, even if that means being alone. Many people think that being alone makes someone insecure, but I completely disagree. Some people will go to any length to make sure they aren't alone, no matter who they hurt or who they spend time with. If you can't spend time alone listening to your own thoughts, I think you're more likely to be insecure. I also think if you try to make someone else feel weak, you're reflecting your own insecurities onto them.

I believe in forgiveness but not forgetting, although I really struggle to forgive without an apology. Even when you feel like you haven't done something wrong, the mature thing to do if someone still feels like you have hurt them is to apologise and to make changes to stop it from happening again. Some people may expect you to change for them, but aren't used to the responsibility of changing themselves. They expect you to share your things, but won't share theirs. They can hear, but perhaps they aren't used to listening. They can't keep taking and never give! It could be that they haven't been many situations where they have had empathise with other people in their life. If you tell someone what you think should change in order to stop people getting hurt, their response reveals a lot about their attitude towards their relationship with you. Real situations usually expose fake people. 
I don't believe in revenge, but as a last resort, sometimes giving an unsympathetic person a slight taste of their own medicine can help them to realise the consequences of their own actions (note this is a slight taste of their own medicine; you don't have to stoop to their actual level). If you mean anything to them, they will at least try to make some changes. However, not everyone is at the stage to accept that they have faults like everybody else. Some people think that they are strong because they let go of things that have gone wrong overnight, but I just think they don't want to face what they may have done wrong. When they have to face problems, they behave as if they are better than you by asking someone else to deal with them so they don't have to. Life will keep on challenging you until you accept and learn to deal with your faults!

I find it easier to forgive true friends who have let me down a few times as opposed to friends who have let me down time and time again. If you start to dislike somebody who used to be your friend because they've let you down so often, you've probably given them too many chances. I think the best thing to do in this situation is to let it go. It doesn't mean you can't still be friendly, but you can still make your feelings clear. If their relationship with you actually means something to them, they will notice it fading away and try to salvage it. If not, then you're probably better off without them and you can be free from the chains of disappointment. Nowadays people underestimate the value of putting yourself first. It doesn't necessarily mean you're selfish. When you take care of yourself, you are able to take care of others better.

I think it’s natural that relationships fade away and people change. Living at such a distance from my family and friends has allowed me to realise which of my relationships are true and healthy. We think we're doing good by trying to maintain dead relationships, but the reality is that we're just digging ourselves into a deeper and more painful hole. It may seem harsh, especially with old friends, but it is a very freeing feeling to decide to let go of people who simply make you feel bad about yourself, act like you're not worth their time and treat you like an option or backup plan. If you've been away for a while, people, old friends especially, may not recognise how you've changed. They may still think that you're the same as you were 5 years ago or might not even want to acknowledge what's been happening in your life. You keep in contact, but they don't seem to want to return the favour. You ask about their lives, but they seldom ask about yours. If someone really wants to be your friend, they'll keep in contact, still bother with you when you're feeling down or have one bad day, talk to you when they have a problem with you, make an effort to directly include you, check up on you if you haven't been around, consider your feelings even if they disagree, talk with you instead of at you and most importantly take the time to get to know you. I know that sometimes my expectations are too high or unrealistic, and nobody is perfect, so I've tried to lower them and I won't keep score of who does and doesn't meet them. However, I won't let myself be treated like a pushover again. Some people think they can treat me in a way in which they wouldn't treat other people, but now I'm not going to put up with it any more. At the end of the day, I'm thankful for what I've been through this year, because I'm mature enough to recognise that I needed to learn some important lessons in order to change my bad habits and become a stronger person.

It's important talk about things face to face when you feel annoyed or upset about something, as this will either reveal your misunderstandings or confirm your doubts. Texting or sending messages online is an excellent way to miscommunicate how you feel and misinterpret what other people say. Sometimes you may end up saying something you don't mean, so in my opinion it's best to deal with things face to face. Unfortunately for me, I struggle with speaking and confrontation and writing is one of my strong points. I also tend to bottle things up that annoy or upset me, because I prefer to avoid confrontation and I used to think that was the kindest thing to do. However, the bottle will overflow eventually, at which point it's too late and I am unable to remain calm. I have come to realise that I over-think things, I'm really sensitive (even though I feel that events in my life have made me a resilient person) and I over-analyse the words and actions of others which often leads me to jump to inaccurate conclusions. 
In the absence of information, we tend to jump to the worst conclusions. This combination is recipe for disaster. Therefore, I have made the decision to make changes in my life to prevent this kind of disaster from happening. I will no longer agree to do things that I don't want to. If someone upsets me I will talk to them about it. I will focus on the present, not the past or the possibilities of the future. I won't let people's actions or words get to me, and instead I will show them that their judgements are wrong. If I don't try to see my own worth, I'll keep choosing to form friendships people who don't either.

If you really know me, you'll know that what I've got and where I've come in life haven't come easy. Actually, I often feel like every barrier that could have possibly put in place to interrupt my journey has been there. Consequently, I sometimes feel older than I actually am and for this reason I sometimes find it easier to be friends with those older than myself, because they seem to be able to relate to me. Sometimes people can't make the connection between the situations I've been in in my life and the person who I am today. What I've been through has made me who I am. I'm resilient, usually serious and I try to protect myself because that's what the situations in my life have required me to do.
 I experienced many adult situations when I was just a teenager and I feel like I've developed prematurely in some ways and I'm lacking development in other ways. I thought I was wise, but obviously there are situations that I thought I knew how to deal with, that I actually didn't. As if I haven't had enough difficulties in my life, sometimes it feels like people want to make things worse for me. However, this is just a generalisation, as this year I have made friends with people of many nationalities and ages who I hope to keep in contact with!

If people want to get to know the real, raw you they should earn it. I seldom open up people because I want to protect myself from situations I've been in in the past and I feel shy in certain circumstances. To some people this comes across as rude, but if they want to misinterpret my personality, that's their problem. Everyone sees what you appear to be, but few experience what you really are. If they listen to other people's thoughts about me before deciding for themselves, that's also their problem. Nobody is perfect, but people's attitude, intentions and empathy towards you are usually quite clear. I'm tired of 'friends' who can't be bothered with you when you're feeling down, make you feel awkward, forget your birthday, believe anything anyone says about you and still think that they've been good to you. It's a shame because I've met people who I thought I could be good friends with, but haven't had the chance or the confidence to approach them. On the other hand, I have had the confidence to approach others and I've made some good friends in the process. Sometimes I wish that I'd gone to another city where there are more opportunities, but other times I think that I've had some really important experiences in Melilla. I'm a city girl and living in a small town has been difficult for me, especially during the times when I've felt isolated and alone. Working at the school hasn't really helped my experience and perhaps things could have been different if I had been happy there. I know I can be a negative person so perhaps I bring some of it on myself and for that reason I have decided to become more positive and try to make the best of bad situations.

"In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends" - Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I look back on my year abroad, I often feel sad because of some unfortunate circumstances involving my living arrangements and the school. I really wish things could have been different. Sometimes I regret choosing to work at the school, but earning money as well as having my university bursary, Erasmus grant, student loan and the money I saved up from working two jobs last summer have enabled me to do all the travelling that I have shared on this blog. When I started university, it was the first time in my life where I had really had enough money to do fun things and I became quite irresponsible with money as a result. However, I learnt my lesson and now I am much more careful. I have travelled more in these past 9 months than I ever have before in my life and I am proud to say that I have funded it all myself. I have only dipped into my English bank account once or twice. Although I have used all the money from my Spanish bank account that I earned through teaching for travelling, I don't regret it at all. I'd rather gain experience through travelling than use it for things such as expensive clothes, a car, or alcohol, all of which many people my age seem to prioritise, but which I don't want or need.

Going home wasn't easy. As most of my close family and friends haven't lived abroad, they seemed to find it difficult to understand my struggles when returning home. In fact, I found that many people were reluctant to hear about my experiences or even failed to acknowledge that I'd been away, which was extremely hurtful and beyond my comprehension. Others advised me that this may have been due to jealousy. People want to see you do good, but never better than them.

My most important lesson this year has been learning the value of travelling and experiencing other cultures. By travelling I don't mean just checking a place off a list, buying every souvenir imaginable, taking photos of everything and posting over-exaggerated statuses on Facebook. By travelling I mean chatting to the locals, trying the food, picking up the language and taking a break from tourist hotspots to experience the area organically. Travelling with Fatima and Jess and seeing their detachment from social media has helped me to realise this.

Sometimes people think that an empty Facebook feed means an empty life, but I disagree. I think it can often mean that the person is too busy enjoying life to post on Facebook (If you're having such a great experience, how have you found the time to post so many photos on Snapchat or Instagram?) or simply doesn't allow their self-worth to require the approval of everybody else. I've known unhappy people (I'm also guilty of this) to have a Facebook profile edited to a level of unrealistic perfection. I think social media is a form of escapism, which we all use up to a point. Others, especially those in denial, may do this to an extreme and fool themselves into thinking they really are flawless and consequently will be unable to consider that something may be partly their fault. Perhaps the case is similar with buying souvenirs. For me souvenirs is just something I can't really understand and something I wish I hadn't wasted my money on as a child. During my whole time in Morocco I haven't bought that much. I just think its a waste of money and time that you could be using to have great experiences. At the end of the day, you'll probably get home and wonder why you even bought it in the first place, or give it to someone who may think the same. I'd rather enjoy my trip than spend time stressing about who I should buy presents for in order to have the opportunity to go home and boast. If people are interested about what you've been doing, they'll ask. If they don't, that's an issue that they need to deal with.

For this reason I have decided that I am going to at least try to detach myself from social media. Although it was annoying when I lost my phone earlier in the year, I actually felt quite free without it and I would like to maintain this feeling. I'm tired of scrolling through feeds of forced smile selfies from people claiming to have had an amazing weekend, most of which was spent sat in their bedroom. I actually feel sorry for them, because to fake is to stand guard over emptiness. They copy other people's ideas because their life is so empty and fake that their only way to feel fulfilled is to try to compete with others by taking something from them and adding unrealistic fabrications in an attempt to improve it. I feel that I am quite honest with my social media, especially this blog. I try post positive and negative things and write from a realistic perspective. Living my life transparently empowers me to feel like I can be myself. With me, what you see is what you get. I many not open up completely to acquaintances, but at least I don't sugar coat or exaggerate things and I try to be as real as possible. I think social media should be more like this, because pretending everything is perfect when it isn't just makes yourself and others feel rubbish.  Sometimes I feel like I want to remove myself from such a nonsensical community, but I know the outcome will be bittersweet, especially when I have friends in different parts of the world.



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