I had never left the country without my parents. I live minutes away from the Mexican border yet I've never crossed it. The last intercontinental voyage I embarked on was to the Philippines with my mom when I was two. But I was sixteen, and I was headed for London with my tour group of classmates and my math teacher. I was going to spend the next two weeks traveling through England, France, and Spain.
On the plane ride, all I could think about were the cities I was going to be in: London, Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid. Questions raced through my mind like jets in an air show.
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But the most trivial was, "How different will they be from San Diego?" Veteran travelers had told me that Europe is completely different from the US, so I was expecting these foreign countries to be exactly that – foreign. Needless to say, I was appalled by how much Europe reminded me of home.
The first day in London, my tour group and I were on the "tube" when we overheard a group of English teenagers. My friends and I couldn't help but listen in on the aliens, and despite their incomprehensible accents, we were able to make out the line, "She doesn't even go here!" My friends and I were awestricken to hear the Mean Girls quote that is ubiquitous in every American high school, and that's when I realized it – all those things I was told about these "foreign" countries were false.
Realizing the sameness of these English teenagers and American teenagers helped me realize I'm no different from them. It helped me realize I was living my life inside a bubble; so ignorant of cultures other than my own. I thought that although these cultures were beautiful, the people there were almost freakish. But I realized that these cultures were neither freakish nor foreign at all. The 17-year-old bubble had finally popped. I wasn't a senior at Eastlake High anymore. I wasn't a Californian anymore. I wasn't even an American. I was simply another passenger on a subway, contributing to the bustle.
This subway ride taught me to be more accepting, regardless if things seem foreign; to not be so quick to judge. I use this skill today in the campus-renowned room 804, commonly known as "the yearbook room". To me, this is home. When I see my yearbook staff stress out on a deadline, instead of getting upset that these slackers procrastinated to write a couple paragraphs while I tirelessly created hundreds of layouts, I see things more empathetically. I'm now able to shove my anger aside and realize that sometimes I, much like them, need a kick in the butt. This London subway ride taught me that although I am their Editor-in-Chief, at the end of the day, I am, above all, their equal and we are all the same.
I still had three cities to go.
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