My good friend who is in medical school in the Philippines posted a quote online today from the book, Walk Out, Walk On:
“Leaving home takes courage. We have to be brave enough to explore our questions, to cultivate our dissatisfaction with the present state of things, to notice what disturbs us, what feels unfair, terrible, heartbreaking. We have to be unafraid to look reality in the eye and notice what’s really going on. If what we see opens our hearts, this is a good thing, because that’s where our courage is found. With open hearts, we can bravely begin searching. We can go into the world with our questions, carried by our yearning to find a simpler and more effective way to live life and to benefit more people.”
This quote spoke to me, and it got me thinking about how much traveling has defined and altered my life and my perception of the world. My ultimate passion is observing how traveling and learning new languages completely alters your perception of reality, because I have so keenly felt this change of perception in myself. I have been lucky enough to travel throughout my entire life, and as a teenager, this travel translated into a sense of freedom and wanderlust that inspired me to major in French in college for the sole reason that I knew that it was my ticket to leaving the country again as a study abroad student. Once in college in New Orleans, Louisiana, which was an exchange experience in itself, I started to become fluent in French and chose to go to Marseille for my junior year abroad. These four months abroad in Marseille birthed a new sense of “travel” in my life, an “adult” sort of travel where the trip wasn’t pre-organized by my school and pre-paid by my generous grandfather. This was when traveling became raw and real; not as glamorous but far more beautiful. This was when I began traveling to the culture of a place, not just to the monuments and museums of the place. I began to learn that what “normal” was for me was actually not that normal, and that even the concept of “me” was open to change and interpretation. I began to realize that who we are depends on how we spend our energy, whether that energy be money, or brainpower, or quality time, or vocal expression. I began to realize that the United States was just a country, and that me and my entire life was no more than a pinprick on a molecule on a grain of sand. The feeling of innate uniqueness and importance that I had had engrained in me from age 4 when I got my first all american millenial pep talk about how important and special I was just for being me, was slowly being eroded away by a nawing feeling that there was so much more to life than I had been exposed to, and that those brown, red, blue, orange, white faces that were never anything more than faces on the national geographic magazines were real people with real lives, and I was a person with a real life, and I was wrong about so so so many things and I became overwhelmed with realizing how much I didn’t even know I didn’t know.
And then I met this man who called me Tina for the first week he knew me and thought I was German until he heard me talk, and then when he realized I was American, he told me I was the first American he had ever met. Which was all fine and good, I guess, because he was the first Algerian I had ever met. But I didn’t even know what it meant, at the time, when he invited me to his nephew’s circumcision where they would kill a sheep, I didn’t even have the worldliness to realize that he was telling me he was Muslim, and that that was the same thing as the Muslims who I had grown up hearing about stoning women and terrorizing our lands…I didn’t realize that I was opening the door of my heart wide open to the most foreign, and he was opening his heart open to the most foreign, and that once we opened that door, we let the whole world in.
As the problems of the world got pelted into our living room, solutions flew back out in “I love yous” and “will you marry me’s?”
And suddenly “the other” becomes your reflection in the mirror.