I remember the day I decided to move to the United States very well. I was only 15 and my life changed completely. I chose to change it completely. I was not as mature as I am now and yet, for some reason, I decided to move to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, to a place I had never seen or heard of before, where I did not know anybody. I did not know what to expect. I knew that many things were going to be different, but I did not know what those things were. Knowing very little English, I was also a bit scared of being left behind and not reaching my full potential because of inevitable cultural barriers. After a period of asphyxiating darkness—something that may last longer for some people but is unavoidable and rather necessary—, thanks to the endless positive energy of my mother and to some wonderful people whom I met along my journey, I underwent a significant "mutation". I learned to appreciate the new culture I was surrounded by and to face every situation with an open mind.
Now that I am contemplating my decision to move to Brazil for 9 months I can't help but think about the difference keeping an open mind has made during my experience in the U.S. When you're on your own in a foreign country everything you know means nothing (Note: I use the term foreign to indicate countries whose language is different from the one one speaks, however I think that if we want to build a truly inclusive global community maybe we should abandon this term and adopt a less alienating one). You are powerless in the sense that you feel overwhelmed by everything you have never experienced before, but you are also extremely powerful because you have the possibility to create a new 'you', a new identity, a new being. Everything is new and in front of you, and you have the possibility to absorb it all. Some say that silence is the most powerful weapon. Well they aren't wrong. There is nothing more fulfilling and useful than quietly observing what happens around you, allowing your mind to assimilate differences and turn them into normalities. This psychological process is fascinating but it cannot happen unless we willingly prepare our mind for it.
Communication is crucial to succeeding in a new environment, but in order to communicate clearly, respectfully, and meaningfully, one has to silently witness the culture of interest to explore every corner of it and to comprehend how to utilize its countless tools.
Having said that, this is by no means easy. It requires a lot of mental power and it drains one’s energy very quickly. There will be times when we will not understand why something is the way it is and we will want to find refuge in what we have always known, what seems to be right. Times like these are necessary to realize that what we think is simply a product of our experiences. Our experiences are determined by the people who surround us, the environment we live in, and the way we were raised. Luckily, some of us are able to recognize this and keep an open mind about it.
In this case we are talking about cultural differences between populations, but this can also be applied to other issues—issues within one population.
I cannot stress enough the importance of consciously keeping an open mind and viewing everything with a humble eye.
Like Gandhi taught us: if we want to bring about positive change, we have to be positive change; and that means adopting a positive behavior in every aspect of our lives. Keeping an open mind certainly brings us one step closer to becoming positive change.
Peace & Love