By ALEX SAIFITI
"The voyage of discovery lies not in discovering new lands but in seeing with new eyes" — Marcel Proust
Travelling overseas, immersing yourself in a new way of life, doing as the locals do — all of this pushes you to step outside your comfort zone and learn so many different things about the world and yourself.
Having been on exchange to Vietnam myself, I can understand the impact such a life-changing experience can have.
Going on exchange reminded me of how lucky I am and how often we Kiwis take the smallest things for granted.
My eyes were opened to how privileged I am when I met a woman who had been making rice paper for 20 years, repeating the monotonous and strenuous task for hours every day.
Life is an uneven playing field and I’ve been offered opportunities beyond hers, simply because of where I was born. Yet, she wore a smile on her face and had her family by her side.
Here are three accounts from people who had mind-expanding experiences on exchange.
Yohanna Najoan (Bachelor of Communication Studies), SpeakYourMind project, Vietnam.
"Going on exchange gave me a different perspective on how I view things in life. Travelling from North to South Vietnam, you get to see a variety of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds and have first-hand experience observing how different their lives are and how wide the poverty gap is. In Hoi An I met a girl who was around my age and working, calling people to come to her restaurant."
"All of a sudden, it hit me. Although we were around the same age, our worlds couldn’t have been any more different. As a potential customer, I was being called to, spending money through the luxury of my parents’ wealth, while she was working and striving to take care of her parents. That one moment really made an impact on me, prompting me to be more grateful and do my best to help those who are not as fortunate."
Tess Pilkington (Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Biomedicine), Special Care project, China.
"Coming from a poor family in South Auckland, my mother always taught me about seizing opportunities. She never had opportunities in her life because of her gender, and she could never really do anything about it because she was a single mother. So we survived on either the benefit, or the minimum wage. This was just how things were. Because of this I have always believed in seizing the opportunities that are available to me, such as going on exchange to China. China greatly exemplified all my mother had instilled in me, as I saw the difference in opportunities available."
"When I got to China, the way I perceived opportunity changed dramatically. Opportunity is a word that is constantly debated in the Western world. We are taught that we should take every opportunity available. However, if you don't have opportunities, that's just how it is.
"Coming to China, I was able to witness that for a lot of people, there is no such thing as opportunity at all. While working at an autism centre at a hospital in Chongqing I could see that families were pulled apart and reduced to poverty simply so the child can go to the autism centre thus ensuring they can participate in society."
"If they can't afford treatment or treatment doesn't work and they can't participate in society and work as an adult, there is no support. There are no other options."
"In China, people create their own opportunities and do not accept things as they are, but instead find a way to make things work and find a solution. China teaches us that not only do we have the ability to take opportunities. We also have the ability to create opportunities as well."
Angela Park (Bachelor of Commerce), Enter Your Future project, Poland.
“I can safely say that going on an exchange to Poland, a very distant and foreign country, was the best decision of my life thus far. I taught at schools far out in the countryside with my goal being to inspire them about their future and its endless opportunities.
"Many of the students had never been outside Poland, and when questioned about their future, they greatly limited themselves to their comfort zones. From here, my focus was to inspire these students as to what the world holds for them and how their individual potential is infinite. That it doesn't just lie within their small town, nor just in Poland- but the entire world.”