You can’t pretend to know the size of the world.
Curious, though, isn’t it, how quickly people seem to forget that the world is shrinking? The blank edges of the map are filling in, cultures blossoming, and soon, there will be nothing left to discover. We, as a race, will need to begin to learn how to discover things within ourselves as we experience the world we have already found. But you cannot do that stuffed inside your house. You have to place yourself in another world in order to realize what it is you had at home that you could never see before.
â–º quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
This last summer, I had to opportunity to travel as a student ambassador with the People to People Student Ambassador Programs. I along with thirteen others, found myself flying off to Europe for three weeks. It would be a fast adventure, touching over six countries in twenty-one days including London, England; Paris, France; Brugge, Belgium; Hogue, Netherlands; Heidelberg, Germany; and Scuol, Switzerland. Life began to move faster than I could and by the time we got to Haibach, Germany, I was overwhelemed. Within the first thirteen days alone, I had tasted, touched, and heard more astonishing things than I could comprehend, smiling at each one as they passed. But Germany would be different.
During our travels in Germany, we were given the opportunity to stay with a German family for two days, engulfing in their culture, school, and family life. It was an opportunity that was supposed to give us ambassadors a new insight on the differences in cultures around the globe. However, my experience was not quite so cliché.
Being an ambassador, my biggest fascination with the cultures I came into contact with was not always how they lived, but how they saw the way we lived as Americans. I have always known that if you are looking for a change in yourself or your life, you cannot do it by experiencing a new world or idea; you must do it by seeing what it is you need to change by having someone put a mirror to your life. This was what I sought out to do.
My German homestay family consisted of four people, two girls my age and their parents. They lived in a little town in Haibach, Germany and attended a high school known as Kotl-Theodor-von-Dalberg-Gymnasium that was twenty minutes away. It was a lovely school, grand and tall with carvings of saints all around the campus.
My homestay sisters toted me around throughout that day at school like a puppy, introducing me to their friends and teachers. I didn’t feel so special, however. Didn’t Europeans hate Americans? Half-way through that first day, I would find out.
Just before lunch, we attended English class in which I was the elected teacher’s assistant. He asked me to speak with the class about America and ask questions about Germany. Of course, my first reaction was to stand and say, “What do you think of Americans?” One boy, stood instantly and, in his shaky English, answered, “You are fat, stupid, and have nice cars.”
I was never surprised by his reply. What I was surprised by was my reaction. How could my people put such an image in the minds of others as to be something we are not? How could I put on a face of something I am not? My country, my people, and my life needed a change.
Since then, I have learned but one thing: that you must live the world, live yourself, and live your life.
Not live in it.
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