20 Ways My AFS Experience Changed Me

It came to my attention that even though I did write stuff about my experiences during the time I spent in Malaysia, I never talked about the impact the whole year had on me. The ways in which one is affected from such a long journey are not the same for everyone, of course. Despite this, it is undeniable that no matter what, spending almost a year of your carefree teenage life in a completely different country influences your person deeply, to the point that maybe you’ll be able to notice only a while later. So, who knows? I might actually discover some other long lasting effects of my AFS experience in another five, or ten years. At present time, in this very right moment, just six months have passed. However, I became aware of newfound skills and general advantages which I’m sure have been the result of the knowledge gained ever since I boarded the ubercool airplane which took me to what was to become my home for the next eleven months.

This will likely be an extremely long ass article, but I strongly recommend you to read it carefully. I find that it could be useful both to a returnee, to think about his own metamorphosis, or to anybody who knows a friend and wonders about what he/she actually went through as well.
Without further ado, here are my ***top 20 ways my AFS experience changed me***. Coming soon on Watchmojo.

**1) More open**
A quite obvious but still deserving of attention point, living in a different country teaches you that, yes, people may have very different opinions from yours, and that these opinions must be respected for how much weird they might seem. It is also a chance to broaden your horizons through the contact with a new variety of conceptions that you probably wouldn’t have considered had the circumstances been different.

**2) Time management**
Since your time is limited, you slowly become aware of its value and start to treasure every moment, to grasp any occasion in order to truly make the best out of it. You know too well this a one time possibility, so might as well not waste any second!

**3) Less picky when it comes to food**
After having a bite of Durian you’ll be able to stand anything else, trust me.

**4) More extroverted – better communication skills**
My communication abilities have strongly improved, mostly due to the Malaysian students’ tendency to act shy and embarassed towards foreigners. This apparent obstacle gave me a hard time but also enabled me to develop my skills and improve my fluency.

**5) More self confidence**
Like every exchange student, I faced a number of difficulties. We are put in front of walls (they change according to the country) – family problems, lack of communication, hard time making friends, opposite views on certain subjects, religion, prejudice and so on – that require an enormous amount of courage and hard work to climb. Sometimes we make it, sometimes we can’t, but no matter what, we did our best. And this proves the actual determination we have inside.

**6) Motivation boost**
Immediately after I came back, I started making plans about my future and career, and felt a sudden rush of energy into my veins. Most of that energy was spent studying for life-sucking school exams, sadly, but some sparks have successfully survived until now.

**7) Living emotions in an enhanced way**
While abroad, all feelings are perceived as ten times more intense than usual, or at least it was so for me. It could be compared to constantly being on your period. I have no clue why, though it’s still like this here in Italy. Really, if somebody has a logical explanation, please do inform me.

**8) Paying more attention to global issues**
I had multiple occasions to meet people who talked a lot about the news, the general situation and the major stuff going on in Malaysia. My curiosity prompted me to search info concerning the problems/good things about the country. I kept up this interest and applied it back home, too.

**9) Aware of my power to change things**
Always connected to the previous point, I learned how much an individual can do to support mutual peace and mediation between cultures, one of the main goals of AFS. Been spreading positive accepting messages ever since.

**10) Be more supportive**
You know, at the beginning I must admit I was quite selfish. I was constantly analysing my thoughts and emotions, but I had not tried to imagine what others around me might have been feeling. Time passed, and I started to put myself in my friends and family’s shoes. After empathising, things got much better.

**11) Packing skills**
Man, I feel like I could fit fifteen pairs of slippers in my pockets now.

**12) More patient**
Yes, Malaysians are well-known for their “take it easy bruh” tranquil lifestyle, meaning everybody is extremely talented when it comes to invent crazy lies to justify mysterious 3 hour long delays. It took me 6 months to finally surrender and accept this unnerving philosophy.

**13) Adapts quickly to changes**
Being flexible is a lesson you will definitely internalize as you progress. Chameleon-mode: activated.

**14) Tried to have a better relationship with family**
I never 100% realised the full sense of loss my natural family had to bear in my absence, at least during the stay. When I returned, however, it hit me like a train, and I mean one of those super modern high speed models. As I currently understand better, I’ve been trying to treat relatives much more kindly.

**15) Better at handling distance relationships**
When you come back, you leave everything behind: routine, food, school, and above all the relationships. The bonds you built can be kept. They require just a lot more of attention, but if you’re willing to, they will stay. Forever.

**16) Get out of my comfort zone much often**
I could name tons of things I would have never even considered doing if I had not left. It takes courage to step out of the bubble, I know, especially if you are scared of offending someone or of people’s reactions. No matter how bad it may seem: just go for it. Mind that respect comes first, obviously.

**17) Had a clearer idea of how big the world actually is**
There are 7 billion folks on this freaking planet, we all know that. And you aren’t aware of how wonderfully unique they are until you live their life for some time. Do you ever think about how different your existence and personality would be had you been born in another country?

**18) Widened my musical (and other fields) taste**
Message me to get an awesome playlist of Tamil songs that will make your legs move uncontrollably for days.

**19) More respectful concerning religion and race**
Living in a multiracial and multireligious country taught me loads from an insider perspective, which is so important considering the many stereotypes that go around. Intolerance is a fact: still, you have a tremendous power to fight it, everyday.

**20) My limits**
My year abroad in Malaysia surely had its ups and downs. It was not easy. It was not always fun. As AFS volunteers like to remind to students, it’s normal to follow an emotional curve. Some times you feel like you could touch the sky with your fingers, others you just want to crawl into a lair full of food and hibernate, pretending to become a hedgehog. However, it’s all part of the process. Don’t worry.
In spite of the infinite amount of knowledge about tons of fields I gained, despite everything… the most significant things I learned were about myself. The journey I made shaped me into the person that I am. And I couldn’t be happier.

Decades ago, when I was just one month into my exchange, I wrote a post questioning if I had regretted my decision. I wasn’t sure if it had been the right choice, I’ll admit it. Whenever anyone asked, “Would you do it again?”, I used to pause and say yes only after a few seconds.

But now?

I don’t pause anymore.


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