My semester-long stay in Europe taught me more than education. It taught me real life lessons that have given me a deeper understanding of culture and the value of the human person.
In spite of the joys and adventures that my stay offered me, I cannot deny that as an exchange student, I initially encountered some difficulties. Being the only undergraduate Filipino who qualified for the Erasmus Mundus scholarship in Poland, I got to experience living independently in a completely different socio-cultural landscape. Surviving this experience did not just entail deviating from my accustomed beliefs, but also understanding the cultures and backgrounds of the people around me.
For several months, every day was a different learning experience for me. My dormitory encapsulated my whole experience of understanding others’ way of life. My roommate was Jewish, my neighbor was conservative Muslim and Hindu, and my fellow scholars were Hindu. Living everyday with people of different races and backgrounds made me realize the complexities of the human person—everyone is diverse yet we all want to feel similarly valued and respected. Eventually, my roommates, neighbors, and fellow students became my closest friends whom I was also able to identify myself with.
Even more than encountering a foreign environment, studying in one of the best universities in Europe, the University of Warsaw, gave me a different perspective on life. As I attended the classes of the most renowned professors in international relations with my fellow scholars and the brightest students from all over the world, I became more proud of my roots. Learning in a different socio-cultural environment challenged and reinforced my identity as a Filipino. It motivated me to excel more during class discussions and gave me deeper understanding of the contexts from which my peers came from.
On the other hand, travelling to 13 countries and 18 cities across Europe made me more than just a witness to the wonders of Europe’s heritage and culture. Beyond seeing the breathtaking scenes of the Roma Colosseum and Trevi Fountain in Italy, Berlin Wall in Germany, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and hiking through the Polish Tatra Mountains, the greatest experience was knowing a lot of people along my way. My travelling experiences formed not only a journey to those places but also a journey to others’ lives and a journey to my own self. As much as I learned about these people—their names and backgrounds, their stories, their worlds—I came to know myself more.
Had I not met these people during my stay in Europe—at this moment they could be along the halls of my dormitory, at my university or anywhere in Europe—my experience would not have been as gratifying and humbling as it was. It is in the very act of knowing ourselves and being open to one another that we are able to recognize and accept the fundamental differences of human beings.
By Ace Paolo Dela Cruz, a regional intern at the World Youth Alliance Asia Pacific office
Where do we find our common humanity in the midst of a world of differences? Check out the World Youth Alliance Charter, and learn why human dignity is so important to understand.