An Experience Abroad: A Journey of Education, Self-Exploration, and Diversity by Djamila from Algeria

For those who do not know me yet, my name is Djamila. I’m from Algeria. I left my country and moved to France in 2013. Before sharing my story and my study-abroad experience, let’s go back to where I am from and how this adventure started! I was serious about my studies as far as I can remember. I have never missed a class and I have always been competitive. So after completing my high school diploma in literature and languages (what we call Baccalauréat in many countries), the moment I had been waiting for finally came.: I was going to college

I chose to study English thinking it would be the key that would open up the world to me and allow me to travel. I graduated from university in 2011 and started looking for a job and travel as I planned  but instead, instead I encountered my first eye-opening moment: I didn’t correspond to society’s standards.  The education I received for four years didn’t fit the working market needs and my resume was not very attractive. For an almost-twenty-two year old, that was quite a rude awakening

However, I didn’t want to feel stuck. I needed to do something to make me feel that I was moving forward. So, I got my act together, I went outside and I did my best to find a job. For two years I held many different positions: I was a trade commissioner in a small advertising agency. It was a very hard experience. I was walking all around the city, all day long. When the weather was very hot or when it was raining cats and dogs you start questioning your life choices. I did this for a few months to earn some money. After this experience, I started an internship as a technical sales engineer. It was a short but great experience. I had the opportunity to work with a very smart team. I learned a lot of things with my mentor and for the first time in my short professional life, I had the feeling of change. I knew that I was learning something and I was actually very good at what I was doing, and to be honest, it felt great to receive positive feedback. Of course, I also received negative feedback but I discovered what I was capable of. It was short but I gained so much confidence. This experience also gave me the desire to do more, learn more, and expect more from myself.

After that, I held other positions, but these positions were not helping me toward a lasting career. I even moved to southern Algeria to find a job. I never did but the experience of moving to a different part of the country was rich and fulfilling.  These experiences, good and bad, taught me a lot and most of all, there was this voice in my head saying “You tried many things, you were lost for two years, now, it’s time to leave and see what the world has to offer.” So, I did. France became the new option.

I started the procedure in 2013 and it took approximately 8 months to both have an admission to a French university and get a visa. I remember my first day in France. I was in Toulouse (South West of France) and it was a little bit confusing. I left my family, my friends, my references. I was lost. I remember the first time I went outside alone. I was so scared of getting lost that I felt weak and not confident and these feelings literally turned me into someone I did not know before. What was supposed to be exciting was becoming scary. But people were so nice and friendly, I started feeling more comfortable. A few days later I left Toulouse to Pau where I would study, I was really alone and it was scary. I didn’t know anyone and I had to navigate through this adjustment phase by myself. I spent a few days feeling blue, but one day, while I was checking my mail, I decided to read all the names on the mailboxes. One of the names, for some reason, caught my attention. It was a guy named Meziane and his studio-apartment was in the same corridor than mine.  I took a deep breath, I knocked on his door and I simply introduced myself, “Hello, my name is Djamila and I think we are from the same city in Algeria.” And he became one of my best friends. That one encounter changed so many things; from that day on I wasn’t afraid anymore to do things that scared me.

University was a different story. As an Algerian, I am used to some kind of “openings” whenever I meet someone for the first time. For example, we kiss on the cheek but that was not the case for French people who tend to be more distant when they don’t know you. So, obviously I wasn’t aware of some cultural rules and I even broke some of them sometimes. That was the first “culture-frustration” because,obviously, even if I didn’t have the language barrier, I did face a cultural one. But through time I began analyzing the situations; I was observing people and I learned what was acceptable and what was not. After a few weeks, I got familiar with the city and the people, so I tried to focus on the study side of my journey. The educational level in France is high but the teachers are helpful and supportive. I learned a lot from them. I eased some of this discomfort by traveling whenever I could. After my graduation, I decided to go to Paris, to look for more opportunities.

Living in such a beautiful, culturally diverse, and intense city put a lot of things into perspective and I learned a lot about cross-cultural awareness. It is always good to have some sense of perspective about the place that we live in and as a cashier, I got a large perspective. I met people from different countries and different cultures and I have seen how people interact with each other, how they help each other and how tolerant they are in reality. Paris is the capital of culture. There are so many museums and so many places you can visit. Life is never boring in Paris; you always have somewhere to go and always have something to do. However, living in Paris every day is rather tough. You have to work and finding a place to live is not easy. It took me months to find an apartment and sometimes I had to go to a hotel. After months of work and discovery, I wanted to further my education and I enrolled at La Sorbonne Nouvelle University in 2015. It was a great step in my life and I love studying there. It’s a coeducation university and they encourage mixing, so I met students from all over the world. I have friends from The USA, Italy, Venezuela, China, Korea, Morocco, Algeria and so many other countries. It’s just amazing how much you can learn from each other on different levels. This is now my second year in Paris and my third year in France.

My experience, both as a citizen in a predominantly Muslim and “traditionally conservative” country, and as a current student in a country representing more open western values, provides me with a unique perspective and I think that it is an asset. I still face a lot of challenges as a young single women living abroad, but I feel that I have grown up and changed on so many levels. if you have ever lived in another country, you may be able to relate to my story. If you are thinking of moving to another country, you may be able to learn something about what it is like to be out of your comfort zone.

I don’t consider myself to be an expert on Parisian life by any means. In fact, I feel like there is so much that I don’t know and there is so much that I can learn. Living in another country can be confusing, it can be frustrating at times, but it can also be exciting, refreshing, inspiring and humbling. It can open your mind more than you’ve ever imagined. I think everyone should experience living in another country for a while. We realize that the world is filled with diversity. It’s good to remember that our way of life, our habits and familiar routines are not the only way to live. When we step out of our comfort zone we get the chance to realize that we are not always right about everything. I believe we should see differences in the world as something to celebrate, rather than something to fight about. Living and studying abroad is a constant learning process and I encourage each and every one of you to experience that. In my opinion, when we live abroad, certainly in the beginning, we learn about 3 things: about the new culture that we are living in, about the culture we have come from, and about ourselves. If you ever have the opportunity to live this experience, go for it.

 

This is just one example of the important work produced YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region. 

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