Living as Others Do

Elias Estabrook - Senegal

July 6, 2011

These days I often find myself on a bus or a train, alone, absorbed in my thoughts, yet my eyes and ears opened to the surroundings. I pick up a bit of a conversation in Spanish here, a mother talking to her young baby there. I look out of the windows over the neighborhoods of Chelsea, Roxbury, Hyde Park or Cambridge, all diverse communities in Metro Boston, my home.

Still, these places outside of Somerville are new territory for me, places where I am just now learning to make my way around, where I – as a young German-American man – am a white face amidst an array of people from around the world, of every shade of skin color.  After all, on these journeys, I am –most importantly – among people.  Yes, they are “strangers”, but what I find as I sit among them is that day in and day out we work, we dream, we love our families. We all have our own stories, minutes of which we may randomly spend on a bus together, momentarily exchanging a bit of our life, our culture. Truth be told, I have yet to break the surface of their life stories, and that draws me all the more to want to gain insight into what drives them, what plagues them. Thus, as the departure on the greatest adventure of my life – to Senegal – approaches, I find myself naturally taking on more and more of these exploratory adventures, seeking to learn about and understand other people’s lives.

My desire to discover more of the world – its people, cultures, cuisines, music, environments, and struggles – is an effect of how I was raised and how I developed my own identity. I see my life so far as a dual-story of growing up as a privileged, world-traveling, bi-cultural kid and being shaped as a member of multicultural, socio-economically diverse school and urban communities in Boston.  As much as my parents and globally-engaged relatives have taught me to be compassionate and open-minded, I have realized through foreign experience and day-to-day life among Brazilian, Latino, Haitian, Nigerian, and Moroccan friends what it truly means to care for the world and to love people who may at first seem different.

Naturally, with this background and increasing determination, I turned to Global Citizen Year to give me the opportunity to live as others do in another country.  I will never be able to change my white skin color or sever myself from the privilege I grew up in, but what I can do is use my understanding of other people’s perspectives, struggles, needs, and resourcefulness to shape how I can touch people’s lives and help make an impact on the world.

And so, I will carry on with me the same curiosity and inquisitive spirit that motivate me to follow issues of immigration that affect my neighbors and classmates, to learn how to dance salsa and kompa from my Caribbean friends, and to pick up Spanish and Portuguese as I play soccer at the city fields. With an open mind and open heart I will write the next chapter of my story, strengthened by the many stories of others.

Elias Estabrook