Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Citizen of the World Part VI: Diamond in the Rough By: Elizabeth Horner

We are the result of all our life’s experiences. From the moment we open our eyes to the world as babies, we are collecting, storing, and interpreting data--- discovering not just how to look at things, but different ways of seeing them. Every book I encounter changes my relationship with words. Every time I meet someone new, it changes the manner in which I will view the person after that. And every place I travel to, alters my understanding of all other ground under my feet, sky over my head, wind whipping passed my face.

For me, college--- and especially college abroad in London--- has been a life changing experience. It’s not just that I have a new appreciation for England, its rich history and attractions, though, of course, I sit in anticipation of each field trip. No, everything from Greenwich to Stonehenge to Dr. Samuel Johnson’s house in the city has helped me look at my life in the United States with a new fondness and perspective.

There had been so many things that I had taken for granted. Like air in my lungs, or the functioning of my heart, the day-to-day details of life in this country were internalized to the point of being ignored. There was never anything special about driving to the grocery store, for example, until I learned what it was like to carry my purchases from Waitrose all the way back to my apartment about a mile, on foot. Suddenly, the feel of the seat in my mother’s car was a luxury. I used to accept snow as a symptom of winter, the grass tipped with white like silvering hair, but after walking to school through a park every day, plants still green with growth, and the sound of still flowing water gurgling happily from a fountain, it became hard not to stop and stare when I saw those first flakes reign down on me in Ohio.

I’m not trying to place judgment on either of these places, but to remark on one facet of the universe’s design, in which putting green next to red makes each color brighter, where a long time inside will make the air outside seem fresher, where changing clothes makes you aware of the sleeve hitting your arm, and the bend in your jeans even if it’s just for a moment, even if you were wearing something similar before. I know that I have been given a lot by my chance to travel, but the most important lesson that I've learned is not one I had to go abroad for.

Understanding flows in multiple directions, not just one. Like ripples in a pond, I should have known to let my experiences give me new insights into my past, as well as my future. I am in the habit of re-reading books, convinced that each time I venture over the same terrain, I am picking up something useful--- even more useful for being hidden under layers of the familiar, and yet, I never thought to take a moment, step back, and re-read the circumstances and the society into which I was born. The truth is every place is brimming with wonders; they might not be advertised. People might not flock to see them. But being a citizen of the world is not about hitting the most tourist spots or racking up the frequent flier miles; it requires us to appreciate the facets of the world’s many different cultures that allow them to shine so brightly off of one another.

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