I’m a member of Minerva’s Class of 2019, currently in Buenos Aires, following a year in San Francisco, and a semester in Berlin — and I still have four more cities to explore before I graduate. As you can imagine, Minerva is a very different experience than most universities, and probably like nothing else you’ve seen. I know I hadn’t until I came here, though in some ways, “here” is a relative term…
I had the good fortune to travel abroad before I’d even applied to Minerva, but nothing could really have prepared me for this experience. It’s been great so far, and I’ve learned a lot — and I mean a lot — and not only in the classroom. Let me share what I think are the top eight most important life lessons I’ve learned at Minerva so far:
1. Being an Adult is Hard and It’s OK to Ask for Help.
I know. This is probably the most basic advice you will read in this post (and that’s why I put it first). I imagine you are probably rolling your eyes right now, but stick with me.
I’d been forewarned about the hardships of adult life for the last 22 years, but I never believed the warnings. Somehow, I assumed the adults around me just hadn’t figured it out yet. But now, an adult myself (supposedly), I agree — it is messy. There are many things I hadn’t even thought to consider about being an adult; from the responsibility of managing my own money, to practicing time management, to even taking out the trash (what do you mean it doesn’t go outside by itself?).
On top of that, I’ve had to learn how to take care of my mental health. Traveling the world sounds exciting, but it’s very, very hard to learn how to constantly say goodbye to friends, adapt to new places over and over again, and deal with distances and heartbreaks. I lost count of the many ups-and-downs I’ve experienced in these last two years.
Yes, I know; I know I should have seen all of that coming! In my defense, it’s even more challenging learning how to be an “adult” while travelling to seven different countries, most of them with languages I don’t know — not to mention pursuing a degree at a school with notoriously demanding classes. It has been surprising and sometimes overwhelming, learning to handle both the complex and, yes, even the basic responsibilities of “grown up” life.
Lucky for me, (I think), Minerva is essentially a crash course in growing up. It’s Adult 101, but during college, rather than after graduation. At least I get to do it with my friends, and I have the benefit of being able to ask them for help. We have to learn quickly and grow even faster. But we do it together, supporting each other at every please-teach-me-how-to-cook-something-so-I-dont-starve, I’m-feeling-lonely-can-we-talk?, or how-do-I-use-this-German-laundry-machine moment.
I’m glad I’m adapting to adulthood here and now, because my friends at Minerva have helped me more times that I can count. Life will always be tricky, so I’m glad I learned early that I can (and should) ask for help when I need it.
2. “Stuff” Really Doesn’t Matter All That Much
Each time I move to a new city with Minerva, I’m faced with some tough decisions, debating what I want to take versus what is actually necessary. We students can usually only travel with two pieces of luggage. As a result, I’ve become hyper-aware of all my material things, and learned to prioritize what is important to me and what I need above all else.
When moving from Berlin to Buenos Aires this past fall, I could only take one bag, weighing no more than 27 kilograms. The funny thing is this: I didn’t actually know that until the night before my flight, when I already had finished packing. When faced with the decision of whether to leave things behind or pay almost 400 dollars in fees for all the extra weight in my luggage, I saw only one real option. So, I opened my luggage and started unpacking items I knew I wouldn’t use in Buenos Aires.
Just like that, books that I probably wouldn’t read again any time soon, clothes that I was saving for when I get back in shape again (you know, “very soon”), dresses for super special occasions (which never happened anyway), touristic gifts from Berlin and fantastic high heels (geez, those were my favorites) that I actually hadn’t worn in years, were gone.
At first it was hard getting rid of some of my belongings. I had grown emotionally attached to some of them. However, being completely honest with myself, I realized that I don’t really need all those things and I don’t need anything from Berlin, or any other city, to truly remember and appreciate the good experiences there. The experiences that I have had in those cities (and will have in others) are what truly matter, and those will be forever in my memory (one has to love a true cliché about life).
Minerva has taught me to detach from material things, and conversely, I’ve learned firsthand that experiences and people are the things of true value.
3. Be Open-Minded … About Being Open-Minded
When I decided to attend Minerva, I knew I would be challenged to keep an open mind. My class is composed of 140 students from over 27 different countries, so exposure to different cultures, ideas, and social norms was a given. Honestly, at the time, I already thought of myself as an open-minded person (you kind of have to be to apply to Minerva in the first place). I had friends from different backgrounds, had traveled, and taken two gap years. I was good to go, right?
I didn’t realize how naïve that assumption was, until I got to Minerva.
Even my concept of “open mindedness” was, in part, limited by my background. I had preconceived notions about which beliefs (and how many) I was willing to be flexible about, or how much I was willing to question any of them. I also came with a set of values I was sure would never, ever change. It’s come as a big surprise, now, to find myself reconsidering these beliefs. Today, I am learning not only how to be more open-minded, but how to be open-minded about the concept of “open mindedness.” Oh, the irony (and wordplay) of life!
4. “Home” is a Subjective Concept
Imagine being dropped into a new building and suddenly you’re living with liberal people from many different backgrounds, far away from your family and high school friends. That’s the Minerva experience. It might sound scary (or maybe sad), but this experience truly allowed me to take a step further into the unknown, and discover many new things about myself.
I feel encouraged to stride out of my comfort zone, and explore new interests and passions that I didn’t even know I had, which I would never have realized if I hadn’t decided to come.
Minerva gave me the feeling of freedom. Here, I don’t sense the constraints of social or cultural values. I feel encouraged to stride out of my comfort zone, and explore new interests and passions that I didn’t even know I had, which I would never have realized if I hadn’t decided to come.
Minerva empowers me to do what I really want and not follow other’s expectations. Thanks to the experience I’ve had so far, I’ve discarded old views and cultural norms that no longer seem right to me. I’ve opened my mind to new ideas and perspectives that I can personally relate to, more than those I had been accustomed to back home in Brazil. After a certain point, I realized that I’m a completely different person and, more importantly, that this huge, exciting experience is bringing me much more confidence, comfort, and happiness than I ever felt at “home,” in my own country. As I’ve become more and more comfortable in this new environment, one question arose: What is home?
What I’ve come to realize is that “home” is wherever I feel the sense of comfort and security about being the new person that I am now, and a place where I am free to keep going through future changes.
For me, that place is Minerva.
5. … But It’s Also OK to Be Homesick.
In many ways, the Minerva experience brings a lot of instability. It’s never easy to go through so many changes with so much self-reflection. There have been many moments during which I missed the good feeling and ease that comes with familiar things that I could only find at my previous homes. Those are usually people, food, and objects from my country, or intimate hugs from friends that I’ve made along the way, and have had to leave behind.
I decided to leave Brazil, and my previous homes, because I had the golden ticket to an amazing experience. But I still miss my family and friends, and that’s perfectly normal.
Why is it then that when we miss our families, or our previous homes, or native cultures, some people are quick to assume that it must mean something is wrong, or that we regret the decision to explore distant places? I’ve even been made to feel guilty, perhaps unintentionally, for missing home or dear friends I’ve made along the way — as if that means I don’t fully appreciate, or am not taking advantage of, the opportunity to live in these amazing cities, getting to know new friends. There is a common misconception that these feelings are mutually exclusive.
I love my life at Minerva and I love the friends I have here with me. I decided to leave Brazil, and my previous homes, because I had the golden ticket to an amazing experience. But I still miss my family and friends, and that’s perfectly normal. It doesn’t mean that I am doing anything wrong, that I’m not enjoying this experience to the fullest, or that it isn’t worth it. What my homesickness really means is that I love those people and the things that bring me comfort, and I sometimes wish I could have them with me on this journey
6. You Will Be Wrong, It’s OK to Change Your Mind, and Even Better to Admit When You Do It.
Many of us have been conditioned to believe it’s bad to change our minds, under the misconception that doing so is like going backwards, or showing weakness. For some, as for me, this stems from pride and the belief that we can’t afford to admit we are wrong. Let’s be honest, though: no one is always right.
I’ve found it liberating to admit and acknowledge these moments of realization — in fact, others around me often appreciate the open mindedness and humility.
That fact has become especially evident to me at Minerva, where the student body is so diverse. I’ve come to learn that everything is a matter of perspective and, more importantly, making an effort talk to others and not shying away from discussing controversial or difficult topics, is a really valuable opportunity. My classmates have helped me realize that oftentimes my original point of view on a topic is debatable, or that my argument is flawed. Furthermore, I’ve found it liberating to admit and acknowledge these moments of realization — in fact, others around me often appreciate the open mindedness and humility.
7. Be Present. Seriously.
Before I came to Minerva, I was always stressed. I was constantly worrying about every single thing in my life and focusing a lot on the future:
What should I do about my career? And what if I don’t find a job? What if I’m not successful? Am I being a good friend? How can I improve as a student? Are my grades good enough?
Many of you will call that over-thinking, and yes, it was exhausting. I’m tired now just from typing these questions. When I first arrived at Minerva, things got worse before they got better. The extremely demanding courseload, many extracurricular activities, cultural differences, and an intense social life made the over-thinking devil in my head go absolutely nuts.
My friends taught me the importance of being present. Or, as my friend Danilo would say, “Dude, just chill.”
Luckily, I had people to look up to. I admired my classmates at Minerva for how well they handled life here, or at least without the same unsustainable level of stress that I was putting myself through. I decided to ask them for advice and to mentor me.
During our conversations, the most important thing I learned is that there was no reason to be so stressed in the first place. Life goes by at its own pace, so it was useless for me to keep stressing when so much was outside my control. I also realized that I was missing out on many things happening now because I was constantly preoccupied with the future. My friends taught me the importance of being present. Or, as my friend Danilo would say, “Dude, just chill.”
It’s not that I’m not stressed anymore, but I decided to make a point of paying more attention to what was currently going on in my life and my surroundings. I take breaks now and then, and reflect on all the things that I’m grateful for in the moment. I try to drop my worries about the future and focus on the here, the now. Since I adopted that mindset, I have been much happier. Many of the moments of my most profound happiness at Minerva so far arose when I paused to appreciate the little things. The radiant colors of the San Francisco sunset, visible from my dorm window (whenever Karl decided to give us a break); indulging in the sinfully delicious, creamy yogurt at my favorite coffee shop in Berlin; the warm wind on my face during my afternoon runs through a natural reserve in Argentina, and my very fun Krav Maga classes on rainy days in Buenos Aires.
What I realized is that too often, we get wrapped up in the business of our daily lives, focusing on work, studies, insecurities about the future, etcetera, and we forget to think about the now. But that pure, unadulterated happiness finds me when I allow myself to slow down, even for just a moment, to savor the present. This is a practice I will always take with me, so that I can find and feel happiness, wherever life leads.
8. Give a Damn and Show It
My peers have taught me to care about humanity as a whole, not just those in my immediate vicinity.
The Minerva education and the new friends I’ve made here have ingrained in me just how important it is to be aware and engage with world problems, from poverty to homelessness to hunger, as well as things that I hadn’t actually deeply delved into before. My peers have taught me to care about humanity as a whole, not just those in my immediate vicinity. Most importantly, though, they’ve taught me that the best way to embody global citizenship is through action.
Minerva’s curriculum is focused on developing our problem solving skills. Students here are some of the most brilliant people I have ever met in my life. You quickly discover that Minervans don’t just talk about world problems, but often, they have tried, or have plans to try, to actually solve them, either through their daily actions, class projects, future careers, or life plans. Life at Minerva has encouraged me to be better — to go beyond the lessons of the classroom and use my knowledge to turn them into actions.
I urge you to do the same. Our lives aren’t only built on interests or passions. If you care about something, take action; show it.