The Greatest Chance for Growth

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‘Try never to be the smartest person in the room’ – Michael Dell.

Back in 2008-2009, I went through the greatest learning curve I have ever experienced. I was an exchange student studying in Japan for six months, and in that short span I feel I learned a few years’ worth of lessons.

I had travelled to International Pacific University in Okayama Prefecture with two other students who already had experience living in Japan, and had great aptitude at the language, whereas my ability at that time was probably high-beginner to low-intermediate.

At the beginning, I found myself lost in both understanding things around me, and in being understood. I remember looking at the other two in awe of their Japanese ability, the sentences just flowed out of their mouths like a gushing waterfall, whereas I stuttered and struggled to even piece together a few words. It got so bad that I remember a few times going back to my hall of residence and trying to immerse myself in English, I was so exhausted by being surrounded constantly in Japanese.

However, luckily I understood how great an opportunity it was, and I stuck in and judiciously studied at the library after school everyday, took every chance for some speaking practice, and tried to fine-tune my listening skills by sitting in busy areas and focusing on what was being said. In fact, I remember the moment where I began to understand everything that was being said around me, it turned out my listening skills had finally improved somewhat.

By the end of the six months, I had more than caught up to the other two, and I felt that I was on par with them. I realised that in the short span of half a year, I had probably learned more than double what the other two students had combined.

The reasoning behind the quote ‘try to never be the smartest person in the room’, I feel, is that if you put yourself into a position where you are more likely to learn from either the situation, or the other people in the situation, then you have the greatest chance for growth.

It is something I try to become cognisant of at every moment, fortunately by being a non-native speaker everyone has an advantage over me in terms of language skills (in that particular language), so there is always something that I can fall back on, that leads to growth.



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