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Two Brothers, Two Cities: Finding Identity Through Study Abroad

 Patrick Gradus is a recent grad from St. Norbert College
and an Associate Alumni Ambassador (Prague Fall'13).

Life begins at the boundaries of our comfort zone. Study abroad can challenge and transform your life by breaking the mundane routine we fall into at school. It is a unique opportunity that offers more than a chance to live and study in a foreign country. It can help you gain confidence, independence, develop language proficiency or simply broaden your global perspective. For many, it is the first chance to not only leave their hometown, but the United States as well. My study abroad experience combined many of these traits, but self-discovery defined it more than any other. It was the first time I was identified as an individual and not as an identical twin.

Patrick Gradus (right) with his mother (center), and brother, Mike (left)
 
 Patrick Gradus (#63) with fellow teammates including brother, Mike (#53),
and Czech friend, Petr (#50 - far right)

 

Prior to leaving for our separate programs, we decided to meet in Prague and travel for the winter holidays. Traveling through Europe would be a unique opportunity to reintegrate into each others' lives. As our individual experiences were closing, our post-program travel felt daunting. While apart, we spoke only four times with no video feed because the Internet was very weak in Jordan. I had not seen him since leaving the United States four months earlier. It felt as if I was meeting with a familiar stranger.

 

In the past, walking alone into a room usually prompted questions rather than a greeting: “Hey where's Mike?” or “Why isn’t your brother with you?” When I introduced him to my study abroad friends and neighbors, they stood in bewilderment at the sight of my twin brother. It was surreal witnessing people see us more as individuals than as twins. He studied abroad in Amman, Jordan. While there, my friends gave him the nickname, “Desert Patrick.” For months they had heard stories and seen pictures. Now “Desert-Patrick” stood in front of them. His long, well-kept auburn red beard and traditional Arab scarf added a visual representation for how different our journeys had been.
My identical twin, Mike, and I are very close. We played the same position on the same college football team, became founding fathers of the same fraternity and both majored in International Studies. To this day, coaches and friends still have trouble calling us by the correct given name. My brother and I have worked, played, and often lived together throughout our lives. At the beginning of study abroad, the absence of this relationship quickly unveiled the boundary of my comfort zone. The changing relationship with my brother is where my life abroad began.
 Patrick (left) and Mike (right) with their French relatives
 Patrick (left) and Mike (right)

The regional focus of our majors determined our study abroad options. Mike focused on the Middle East. His program involved a home-stay family and small classes with a heavy emphasis on independent academic research. My CEA Prague study abroad program was more traditional: Live with other American students and attend a local university. He could not leave Jordan without program supervisors, whereas I could go wherever my wallet allowed. It was clear upon his arrival at Prague’s Václav Havel International Airport that the countries we lived in were as different as our experiences.
 
The culture shock of a European city--alcohol sales, public displays of affection, and Caucasian people--was an adjustment for him. Luckily, Prague's Christmas Markets in Old Town Square, a plate of goulash, and a few liters of Pilsner Urquell cheered him up. I tried to ease his difficulty with reverse culture shock. Storytelling seemed easiest and came naturally. It was unexpectedly introspective revisiting my life and adventures while abroad with Mike. In sharing stories with Mike, I gained better appreciation for the growth we both made.

 
 Mike (left) and Patrick (right)

Seeing the life I built in Prague collide with the life I have at home was eye opening. For the first time in my life, people knew me as an individual and not in relation to another person. This may sound obvious, but never before had a group of people known me without knowing my brother. Without study abroad, witnessing this stark contrast likely would not have been possible.

 

We had both created very unique and non-traditional study abroad experiences. We grew as individuals and as brothers. It is also easy summarize my personal growth with a few highlighted experiences, such as coaching the Prague Lions American Football Club to a championship season. Beginning the journey is often times the hardest part. If you have considered studying abroad and are reading this, my only advice is go. 
 

 

 

Every protagonist starts with an origin story. Superman is an alien orphaned on Earth, and Batman watched his parents die. Prompted by a challenge or quest, the main character goes through a transformation experience forcing personal growth. A spider bit Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne learned how to fight and I studied abroad. Although international education never gave me super strength or laser vision, it did afford me opportunities that would have otherwise been impossible. Most importantly, it offers the capacity for extraordinary personal growth.

Patrick Gradus is a CEA Associate Alumni Ambassador and a recent graduate from St. Norbert College. Patrick studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, during the Fall 2013 semester.



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