When I was in high school, I spent a summer as an exchange student in a far away country on the outer edges of Europe. Before we left the States, we had a two-day orientation to prepare us for our journey, meeting our host families, and immersion a new culture.
There is not much I remember about those two days. I remember eating peanut butter out of a jar because dinner was of the tasteless, institutional variety. Oddly, I remember the omelet I had for breakfast the next day because it consisted of a thin bit of egg and a slice of American cheese. Most importantly, I remember a valuable lesson that I have carried with me since that time.
We were sitting in a circle on the grass. It was a breezy, early summer day, and the sun might have been shining. The leader of our group, who was once an exchange student through the very program we were part of, looked around the circle and offered us his best piece of advice—advice he wished someone had given him.
“Go into this experience without any expectations,” he told us. “If you have expectations, the reality is going to be different. It might be better, but it might be worse. If you enter your host country, meet your host family, try new foods, make new friends, all without expectations, then you are likely to be pleasantly surprised.”
This advice: it has been my go-to in new situations—in all situations, really. If we build things up in our minds to be more than they possibly can be, we are likely to be disappointed. But if we approach situations with no expectations, we might just be pleasantly surprised.