When I was accepted for my internship position here in Zagreb, Croatia, I was beyond thrilled and eager to set out, have fun, and learn from the experience — but I wrongly assumed that all of my “learning” would come directly from my internship or Croatian culture. Of course, I have learned a massive amount from my internship and from being exposed to new cultures, but at the same time, I never could have guessed how much my roommates (technically flatmates but I like the word “roommates” better) would teach me during the short 6-7 weeks we have spent together.
During my first few days in Zagreb, we did several Escape Rooms (which I think I mentioned in a previous post). During one of them, there was a point when some classical music started playing. “Maybe the music is a clue!” they shouted. “What about it could be a clue?” I wondered aloud. In unison, both of my roommates said the name of the song and the composer aloud, and began scanning the room for connections to that composer and song. Meanwhile, I don’t know any classical music beyond what I was forced to play in high school band, so I simply stood there blown away. Looking back, I know that this first fact they taught me — the name and composer of a famous classical work — signaled the start of an era.
Since that day, I have learned about the proper pronouns for drag queens and expanded my knowledge of the lgbtq spectrum. (Did you know that communities such as the “foot fetish” community is trying to join lgbtq spectrum? I sure didn’t.) I have learned about having parents who are immigrants as opposed to the immigrants in my family who were several generations ago. I have tried to wrap my head around my newly discovered vast variety of dynamics possible within a family. I have learned a significant amount regarding pop culture and global politics beyond the small bubble of pop culture and politics I usually follow. And, of course, there is still much, much more.
I could go on and on, but I know reading that long laundry list would be no fun for anyone other than my roommates and I, and I don’t even know if my roommates will ever read this. Besides, the point of this post isn’t to rub how cool my roommates are in your faces (even though they are pretty cool). Instead, I want to emphasize that I learned so much from a source I had never even considered. I had this horribly incorrect assumption that my roommates would be minor in my experience abroad compared to work.
Which brings me to the most important lesson that they taught me: in life, education can come from unexpected places. You can’t ever count those around you out; everyone has different upbringings, perspectives, interests, etc. — which is fairly obvious — but that means that everyone knows something you do not. It goes beyond accepting each other for our differences. Instead, it is when we learn from those differences and challenge our comfortable, usual perspectives that we can grow the most.