I sometimes joke that the best thing about studying abroad is having my own room, not entirely true of course, but the living situation I have experienced so far can only be fully described in a book.
Ever since I moved to the States, I have had five roommates so far, all were so different yet so much alike in many ways, and with each person I have lived with I discovered new sets of ideas, values and attitudes.
I'm currently living in a lovely apartment next to a nursery school with two Americans, none of us knew each other before we moved in together. So just imagine living with someone you just met five minutes ago; that's how I felt with each of those five roommates I had.
It's very easy living with your siblings and parents, and I always took that for granted when I was in Oman; you all share the same values, religion, and a somewhat cohesive kind of ideas. So when I moved into this apartment where not only are we from different ethnic groups: an Arab, African, American and Caucasian, we also shared three different religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
I must say, dinner became such an interesting time for us. When all of us are back from classes, we would discuss all sorts of things. With no judgements, prejudice or biases. We were simply discussing each others' views on different topics for the sole purpose of fulfilling our curiosity.
With time we grew into a family of three. I call it a family because that is truly how it feels like. The level of respect, thoughtfulness and love that formed between us could be seen in the text messages I would get if I'm not home by 10pm.
The offer for a ride to my classes if the weather is bad, and the cup of tea and bowl of soup I would get delivered to my room when I am sick with a fever.
I can never forget that time when we were about to leave to buy grocery and one of them asked me if I wanted to pray first before we leave “because by the time we get back your prayer time might have passed already”.
Don't get me wrong, I’m not saying it's always sweet and lovely. As with all families we have our fights, over whose turn is it to unload the dishwasher, or take out the trash, clean the kitchen.
The point I'm trying to make here is that in all of my relationships, I never had to compromise my identity. And I found that to be rewarding!
By acting yourself you eliminate any possibility of sacrificing who you are. I have seen and met many people who start moulding themselves in order to gain approval or popularity or whatever it might be, and it's very frustrating knowing what they are giving up in return.
My message to those people is to treasure who you are, love and appreciate where you came from. People tend to notice and respect you more when you show that kind of strength and assertiveness towards what you are willing to do and what fits into your values.
As for those who don't accept you, do you really want to have that kind of person in your life? And this advice is not restricted to those studying abroad, but to whoever is struggling with peer pressure or societal pressure to adopt an identity other than their own.
“The shoe that fits one person pinches another,” a quote to go by.