Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Things I Have Experienced

I cannot believe that there is only a month left.  I am two-thirds done with my European adventure, and, goodness gracious has it flown by.  I’ve changed and learned and grown and seen so much, I feel like a whole new person, but it has just gone so quickly!

As I did for the one-third & one month mark, I am taking some time to reflect as I am at the two-thirds & two months mark.  This time, I have decided I want to talk about what I have experienced.  Of course, I can’t really explain everything I have experienced, it is literally impossible, and my whole blog is full of stories of my specific experiences, but I will do my best to give a general overview of my semester abroad overall so far.

1. Perspective
I have discovered that my identity as an American runs deeper than where I come from.  The way I think is completely American.  In my Intercultural Philosophy and Communications class, we basically just study how different Asian cultures think.  In my International Relations From a European Perspective class, we basically study how Europeans think and different ways to look at the world.  I could go into detail about all the interesting things I have learned about different perspectives and philosophies and how they shape culture and how to look at the rest of the world, but I will simply say that I have been blown away with how narrow my worldview is, just because I have lived in America my whole life.  Growing up in an American family, going to American schools, being shaped by my American peers… the person I have spent my whole life growing into becoming is just so limited by a narrow, American perspective.  I never even realized how biased my whole life has been.  It is amazing to discover how much more is out there, to see and learn and embrace what the rest of the world has to offer.  I'm not the same person I was before I left.  I don’t see the world around me the same way anymore.

2. Spontaneous Worship
A huge challenge this semester has been not having access to a regular, scheduled, organized worship service, where worshiping is set aside and laid out for me.  Yet, somehow, despite these circumstances, I have found myself moved to worship God more than ever before in my life.  Be it late at night in my room belting along to worship music coming out of my computer with Ellen, or wandering around a city discussing God’s goodness and love with Kristin, or standing in awe of God’s majesty at the top of the swiss alps with Jaime, or walking to class alone with my headphones in and beauty all around me.  For me, this semester has been filled with an attitude of worshiping Our God constantly.  It kind of just happened that way, I suppose God put worshiping Him on my heart, and I absolutely love living my life to the praise of my King.

3. History
I think it is accurate to say that, if not all, the grand majority of the churches I have been in are older than my entire home country.  It’s literally insane how old the places I have been in are.  I’ve walked where so many insane things happened in the past, history incomparable to America’s existence.  I never liked history, but being where it happened has had this huge, strange impact on me where I actually appreciate and feel like I can relate to what has happened and what it means for the future.

4. Communication
Talking to people is the very best way to learn interesting things and experience the culture authentically when abroad.  Everywhere I go I have had tons of memorable conversations (all carefully documented in my journal so that I don’t forget all the valuable things I have learned).  Maybe it’s because I am a words person, but the things that people tell me always leave such a strong impact on me that I feel like some of the most powerful moments of this trip have been spent in simple conversation with strangers.  I have not only experienced communication firsthand, but I have also been learning about it a lot in my classes.  In Intercultural Philosophy and Communications, I have learned about how different languages can be reflective of their philosophies.  For example, the Chinese do not have a word for “truth” because their philosophies do not seek to find truth and definitions like we do in the western world.  They are more concerned with the how instead of the what.  It’s such a different way to look at the world.  Also, in International Relations from a European Perspective, we have learned about how according to poststructuralism, the words we choose to use and our language has a profound message on the meaning we portray, and the dichotomies that make up language are not neutral.  This is so true; words and language have such a huger impact than we give them credit for.

5. Maastricht
Right now I am sitting in a little café sandwich shop place.  I saw delicious looking pizza baguette things in the window so I stopped by to order, but when I decided to sit down they told me that it would cost more.  Coffee is the same way; there are different prices for eating in and taking away everywhere you go, but it does not seize to continue to catch me off guard.  I can do my best to dress, walk, and act like I fit in, but, as soon as I open my mouth, my identity is discovered.  People try to talk to me, but all I can do is look at them with wide, confused eyes and ask them hesitantly “English?”  It’s equally embarrassing every time, but I know that in those moments, I am experiencing my hometown of Maastricht.  The tall, loud, happy Dutch people and beautiful cathedrals and cafes of this quaint little city that I walk by on my way to class have become home for me.

6. Vulnerability
As much as I have experienced Maastricht, I constantly feel vulnerable to the fact that I don’t really belong.  Even after being here for two months, I don’t know and understand all the cultures and customs.  Even without the language barrier, I can’t function like a regular citizen.  I imagine this is mostly because I leave Maastricht every weekend and live with fifty other Baylor students, so it’s easy to just spend the weeks in the mini “Baylor bubble” we have created here and be a tourist on the weekends, so I never really have to emerge myself in the culture.  But I have chosen to make myself vulnerable.  I go out on my own and put myself in those uncomfortable situations where I don’t know how to express myself clearly or what is socially acceptable to do.  I’ve discovered that no matter how hard I try, I can’t quite fit all the way in.

7. Traveling
It is possible to leave your country, but never get outside of your comfort zone.  I’ve discovered the difference between being a tourist and a traveler, which is something I always heard people talk about, but I never understood.  Every big “city to see in Europe” is laced with a nice little tourist zone, where visitors can come, “see the sights” of the city, and experience a fabricated, touristy, artificial culture.  I have definitely fallen trap to a lot of those places, but I have learned to travel off the beaten path and into the heart of the places I go.  Of course I absolutely love meeting other travelers at the touristy sites and in the hostel, but I also love going places that are harder to be in.  Of course, it’s easiest to be brave enough to venture into those unknown places with friends by your side, and it’s fun to experience that with people you like, so I am so thankful for the wonderful friends I have gotten the chance to travel with on this adventure.

8. Community
Being here with 50 other Baylor students who I have gotten to know and live in community with has been incredible.  I have formed friendships with incredible Christ-followers who have built me up and taught me more about God and helped me grow into myself, all of whom go to the same school as I do, but I likely never would have met them otherwise.  I know that the strong relationships I have built with these people will stay with me as we all return to Baylor because they have been such an essential part of my growth and development and have loved me through all the stress and craziness of traveling.  I have made friendships that will last me a lifetime.

9. Chocolate
Experiencing incredible chocolate on a daily basis and being able to compare different amazing chocolates has turned me into a total chocolate snob.  My daily chocolate consumption levels are evidence that I am definitely experiencing this part of the European culture.

10. Passion
I have learned a lot about myself: what strikes me, what I care about, what I prioritize, how I respond to different situations, how I like to do things, and really overall who I am.  I am capable.  I can be the person I have always wanted to be.  I should never sell myself short or think that I am not good enough, because I deserve the very best and can truly do anything through Christ.  Traveling has revealed to me a lot that I never knew about myself and has put me in weird situations as I process and comprehend both the good and bad.  As I have grown and learned about myself, I have discovered a lot of what I am passionate about: global freedom and justice, adoption, a life attitude of learning, helping underprivileged, and much more, but above all sharing Jesus.  I’ve realized that I don’t want to waste my life on things I am not passionate about, and this discovery made me want to reshape my future to run after the things I care about.  Of course, I am still figuring out what this looks like, but I am excited to see where it takes me.  I’ve discovered that I can’t not do something about the things that I care about.  I need to change the world.  I need to impact people.

I want to keep learning and traveling the world and telling people about Jesus and hopefully righting some wrongs along the way.  Reasonable life goal?  I would say so.

1 comment:

  1. Very reflective post, Rachel! I totally understand your topic of being a foreigner and the vulnerability that can come from it. For me, I can't even pretend to look like I fit in. Being completely lost and not able to understand anything has been extremely humbling. It still occurs frequently even though I've been calling Korea home for more than half a year.