Insights & Media

Insights & Media

Article: “Challenges of Having an International Upbringing” by Sophia Leite

March 23

Sophia Leite is a junior at George Washington University majoring in International Business. She was born in Brazil but has also lived in Angola, Portugal, the United States, and she is now studying abroad at the East China Normal University in China. Her childhood was spent attending international schools and she hopes to continue to travel throughout her adult life too.

Over the last twenty years I have lived on five different continents. I absolutely love being able to move around, meet different people, understand different countries and explore distinct parts of the world. That is not to say, however, that there weren’t any challenges with changing addresses every few years. Moving around my entire life entailed a lot of goodbyes, a significant amount of culture shock, and difficulty understanding where my home truthfully was.

The Goodbyes

My life consists of an enormous amount of movie-like airport departures, something I have unfortunately gotten used to. Growing up attending international schools meant that most of my friends arrived and left every two to three years. This was enough time to develop close relationships, but not enough time to prepare to say goodbye.

Although I am now accustomed to Skype calls and constant “reunion countdowns,” this was a tough reality as a child. This meant that I would never feel completely at ease becoming best friends with someone, because in the back of my mind I knew that soon enough my friends would leave and I would have to restart my life without them again.

The Famous Culture Shock

Luckily for me, culture shock has never taken a big toll on my experience in different countries. Whether in Africa or Asia, I have always been easily adaptable. However, going through culture shock is a very common challenge among international students who are exposed to unfamiliar environments.

Culture shock is simply the process one goes through when getting adapted to a new environment. There are four main stages to it. The first is the honeymoon stage, where individuals become fascinated with their new city and actually take the time to explore some of the most interesting parts of the new city. This exciting experience is usually followed by what is called the disintegration stage, where most of the bad qualities of the place become clear to them and they begin to miss their old support system, rejecting the new move. Then, the reintegration stage appears, where individuals begin to get used to the new lifestyle, begin to make new friendships, and accept the differences. Lastly, the independence stage, where people begin to be themselves again and the new places begin to feel like home. Although not everyone who moves will experience all four stages of culture shock, most people need some time to adjust to the new place. This can be a smooth process, but some times it may entails great stress and anxiety.

Where Is Home?

My family is 100% Brazilian, no question about it. But me? I am not really sure. Having lived only six of my twenty years in my home country I feel like I don’t belong there anymore. But if I don’t belong in Brazil, where do I belong? Not sure either. This is a common challenge for most international students, who grew up in different cultures than their parents and are never in a single place for long enough for it to feel like home.

Despite that, I believe I have truly become a compilation of all the experiences I have gone through, all the people that have crossed my path and all the places I have lived in. Sure, this has hindered my ability to call a single place “home,” but why limit myself to a single nationality when I can have a little bit of each within me?

Ultimately, my international experience has instilled in me certain personality traits, values and skills that are a true reflection of it. Indeed there were a mountain of challenges that came with it, but I am grateful for every single one because without them, them I wouldn’t have discovered the value of cross-cultural experiences and I would not be the same person I am today.

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