I’m currently suspended 37,000ft over the Caribbean Sea, finally on my way to Ecuador, where I will spend the next 8 months of my life expanding my notion of normal by immersing into an unknown culture. Acknowledging that adapting to a foreign lifestyle is easier said than done, I made sure to pack my bags with open-mindedness, self-awareness, and positivity. With those ingredients, I feel ready to explore the intricacies of the world and re-discover myself along the way.
Sure, my mind naturally cooked up some worries and goals for the year, but upon recognition I remind myself of the dangers that come with expectations. Accepting that my perspective may change as I grow up, I actually don’t like to think about what I want out of an experience. I’d rather just experience it. And similarly, I find it incredibly pointless to expend any energy on worries. However, I am human too, so when fears of the future arise, I try to remind myself of a quote I once heard; it went something like this, “Pessimists live every bad experience twice: the first time in their head and then again when it happens.” Not only is it frustrating to be stressed out by theoretical situations, but I’ve found that it aggressively removes my mind from the present; and in that sense, it colors my perception of the world because I’m constantly anxious and imagining the worst of the world. See, our minds are extraordinary. If I choose to see the world for the worst that it is, well then, the worst is what I will see. But if I choose to focus on the positive (while still recognizing the negative & neutral) I can keep a clearer mental state in which to process the spectacular now. When I worry about the future, I actively remove myself from the present; therefore, by abandoning this habit of fearing future experiences that haven’t even happened yet, I allow myself to be here now, so that I can be there then.
About a month ago, my brother gave me plain kale to taste (and yes, I appear to be digressing, but bear with me). I took a chomp knowing that I wouldn’t like it and suddenly my whole face tensed up as if I just ate skunk soup. I wondered, at that moment, how my previous idea of kale played a role in my experience now. I relaxed my face, told myself “you might actually like this, just taste it for all that it is,” and I did. Then my world exploded: it was actually pretty good. If there was one thing I learned from Global Citizen Year’s orientation week, it’s that open-mindedness is key.
In fact, throughout the orientation week at Stanford University, my definition of learning shifted profoundly, for each day came with earth-shattering insights about how to interact with the world around me. I began to see learning as a part of everyday life, rather than solely something to be done in a classroom.
In a sense, I thought this to be true even before I hopped on this airplane, because it’s the reason I’m here, doing this program. And with each passing day, I feel more confident that this is the kind of experience I need right now: one where I am not just learning what to think, but how to think. For example, I was sitting in a Stanford lecture hall (Geology 105, in case you were curious) and Abby Falik, the Founder of Global Citizen Year, said, “what does it mean to go into a conversation with the intent of being changed?”
Suddenly, my mind shot out of my brain, looped the moon, and settled all within a moment; something clicked. So frequently we go into conversations with the idea that our beliefs about the world are already right– and this seems to kill curiosity. What if instead of critiquing others about their misconceptions of the world, we focused on how to better our perspective by understanding difference? By refining our perception through questions rather than through answers?
Since all that any of us have to draw from are our own experiences, we are prone to be locked in a bubble of subjectivity. We have a notion of what normal is, and difference scares us. Without even knowing it we cast judgements upon differences in attempts to keep our comfortable bubble from bursting. I want mine to explode.
Before leaving home, I spent a moment on my balcony. From there, I can see the fog creeping in from the Pacific Ocean each morning, passing through the Golden Gate and keep on rolling right on up into the Berkeley hills. I could see the beautiful East Bay, and this was my home. But what exactly does home mean? I gazed at my deck, hidden within the trees of the valley, then through my living room window at a grand piano, and then finally at a painting worth more than I could possibly imagine. When looking at this place from an outsiders perspective, I was absolutely blown away. I took this place for granted so frequently. Just inherent on it being my home, it became my normal. But how many normals are there out there?
My perspective was so precisely shaped by my family, my school, and my immediate environment, that I became one of many, stuck in a bias. My stillness eroded my individuality.
Since I’m awful at goodbye’s, I’ll say see you later to the Bay; a new home awaits me, along with a new normal and a new perspective. I’ve got a lot to learn, but hey, everyone’s got to start somewhere.
I love you all. Until next time…