Five weeks after leaving LAX I am finally coming home to the United States of America. Because I was coming home, I took some time to look at the goals I wrote about in my Pre-Reflection. I realized that I made a very good decision in making them broad. I was warned against trying to box CR in, so I left my expectations achievable and vague. So that you don’t have to go back to my second post ever, I will list them here.
They were to…
1. Learn more about myself
2. Make an effort to learn more about my CR mates
3. Be open to new experiences
I believe that while it was not difficult to accomplish these goals, I was surprised by the level of accomplishment for each one of these goals.
First, I never knew how much I tend to throw ideas around in my head and spend time between my ears instead of being present. Sometimes this prevents me from enjoying the current experience. I noticed this when I was in the Santa Croce in Florence. I did not enjoy my time there because I was so caught up by the hypocrisy that Galileo’s burial place is inside a building of the very institution that excommunicated him.
On CR I learned how important it was to reboot my brain when my mood starts to fluctuate south of normal. To reboot, I would forcibly stop my current train of thought, pause for a second while I am thinking about nothing and then step back and reconsider my current situation. If the way I was feeling is not justified based on my new perception of my situation then I try my hardest to change my current mindset. I wish I had switched off my brain in the Santa Croce. If I had taken a step back I would have had a greater appreciation for where I was and what I was doing.
As for my second goal of making an effort to get to know everyone on a deeper level, I am so happy I put it in writing at the beginning of the experience. Had I not done so, I would have not felt the same level of accountability. I now can say with confidence that I would be honored to be listed as a character witness for each and every one of the wonderful people that I traveled alongside. I would love to share how deeply they care for anyone they come across, how their hearts long to make the most out of every interaction, and how they can bring a smile to my face just by sending a dad joke or a “ghost bird sighting”.
While I was at La Reyna Sofia in Madrid, I came across a my new favorite piece of art. It is called “What is this little guy’s job in the world” by David Wojnarowicz (1990). It depicts a tiny frog on someone’s fingertip. Wojnarowicz then asks the following questions: “What is this little guy’s job in the world. If this little guy dies does the world know? Does the world feel this? Does something get displaced…”
I can say with full confidence that the world would reel at the loss of these 17 extraordinary individuals. Losing them would leave a crater in my heart, and I have only known them for 3 and a half weeks. I can only imagine how many people’s lives they have changed in the short time they have been on this Earth and how many more would go unchanged if they were gone.
Finally, I definitely put myself out of my comfort zone on this experience. Of course I had the physical experiences like jumping out of an airplane and trying new food, but I think what stretched me more were the people on the experience. Bea was willing to challenge any preconceived notion that I may have. I stretched myself by allowing myself to sit back and let other people lead me along. Usually I like to try and drive people forward, but instead I relinquished any control I may have had and in exchange for having my eyes opened to new ways to approach situations.
CR has definitely had a unexpected positive impact on my traveling experiences. After CR was over, I traveled to Spain to visit Barcelona and Madrid with my parents. Ever since arriving in Barcelona, my internal clock has been set to CR time: go to bed after midnight and wake up to an alarm rearing to go. I believe that in keeping with the CR way of maximizing your days I was able to adopt the characteristic that make CR so special: I carried over a passion for wanting to squeeze every second out of every day.
One personal change from CR that I did not expect was that I now had a new appreciation for art. I have never had an eye for art, but after walking through both the Prado and La Reyna Sofia I realized how much the passion of the other people on CR changed my ability to appreciate art. While I may not be able to create anything as spectacular or thought provoking as some of the other people on the experience, they showed me why they care so much about the arts. I now can look at a painting and explain why I like it. I knew something was different when my Dad even turned to me and asked me what had changed while I was in Italy because I was excited to go see an art museum.
I also gained a greater appreciation for what Dr. P does when I was in Spain. It was so hard to try and set up an appropriate itinerary for each day. I spent over an hour researching places to explore for the three days we had in Madrid, while Dr. P has done that for 6 different cities. It also was incredibly difficult, if not impossible to find local places to eat rather than places that were catered to tourists. Everything from our hotel room, to our train pass, to our itineraries are taken care of by Dr. P, so we never see the struggle that happens behind the scenes. I was only in charge of itinerary in Spain and that was enough responsibility for one person.
Dr. P when you read this, thank you.
Another thing I learned in Spain, that I had not considered on CR, is that understanding Italian or German is both a blessing and a curse. I understand more than 80% of what is said in Spanish, and can communicate effectively about 65% of the time in Spanish. The positives of not having a language barrier is that being able to communicate more effectively makes everything a little easier. The downside of doing things in multiple languages is that it leaves your brain exhausted. You have to work extra hard to listen if you do not understand the dialect very well, and your internal language is left scrambled. Your thoughts end up in language purgatory, as a mixture of both languages form your current state of mind. It was a mentally exhausting experience, and I cannot imagine being under that level of mental strain coupled with trying to absorb everything CR has to offer as well. Even if your are truly bilingual (and I am truly in awe of you), I’m sure you are aware of the mental strain speaking two languages can cause and I would take time to consider how much you want to use your ability. I would not dare to go so far as to say that it should inhibit your desire to go on CR as I believe CR is a powerful and transformative experience that everyone should try to pursue. I would say, however, that being a translator makes you feel as if you are constantly mediating between two cultures and do not belong to either. It tends to be a very lonely job after a bit as you can tend to feel as if you do not quite belong with either.
CR expands your world view by exposing you to different opinions and world views. Everyone should jump at the opportunity to have their world rocked because most of our personal growth and character development happens when we are uncomfortable. Getting to know other people is uncomfortable, not understanding someone’s language is uncomfortable, and traveling somewhere new is uncomfortable. The reason these are always uncomfortable is because when you do any of these you have to admit to yourself that you do not know everything. You do not know why someone is the way they are. Your own lack of knowledge is what prevents you from communicating. Traveling exposes you to new experiences which show how uncultured and ignorant you can be. These uncomfortable situations should be embraced along with the growth that comes with them. CR is not special because of the night train, the Hertha Match, skydiving, Dachau, deep talks, or the last night in Rome. CR excels because it facilitates personal growth at an unprecedented rate. These are just instances that students point to of times when they saw themselves grow because these were the times when CR took them out of their comfort zone.