Embracing a big world beyond my own 

Headphones in, back flat, staring at the underside of the tree I’m resting underneath. With Jónsi flowing directly into my ears, this is how I find myself at the tail end of summer, in the middle of Place de la Victoire.

I’ve spent the past few days in Bordeaux, France; the entire week felt like it was leading up to this moment of serenity. All around me is a fairly busy town square, people walk by, stop by the crêpe stand on one side of the street or the kebab stand on the other end. In spite of the busyness and the crowds, I can’t remember the last time I experienced a moment this serene. This decadent. Seems pretty appropriate for France.

I’ve spent the past few weeks, actually the past few months roaming through Europe. From Italy to Austria to Slovakia to France, I’ve started to realize that there is an amazing way that my heart opens up to the world’s different cultures. It’s as if I feel most at home when I’m discovering somebody else’s homeland. I feel totally in my element when I’m unpacking the nuances of a new culture, exploring it through any way possible. Through meals, through conversations, through books, and through walking the city streets.

This year has been my most well traveled one yet, having started in Turkey and continuing on to a romp throughout Europe. I’m immediately reminded of a feeling I haven’t had since high school, when I did a quick exchange trip to Australia. Even then, parts of me that I didn’t know existed were brought to life as I plunged deeper and deeper into new worlds, new ways of life, and new friends with different points of view.

And that was just Australia, the tip of the iceberg.

This past year has helped open my eyes, to the world outside of my own familiarity, beyond my home and the culture that I was used to. It’s also helped open my eyes to the fact that I truly come to life when I can interact and engage with the world’s diversity, with its plethora of cultures. As I learn more and more about different places around the world and how radically different life looks in each of those locations, I feel a certain part of me growing. I feel a rush of excitement that I don’t get through many other things.

This summer, I’ve felt that as I’ve started listening to Italian pop music in order to learn the language. I felt that as I got to interact with Latvians in the middle of a public park in Brussels. I’ve felt that as I’ve found myself in the middle of unplanned hangouts with brand new Turkish friends over glasses of çay and games of tavla.

For the rest of my life, I know that I at least want to in some way stay connected to the broad spectrum of perspectives and experience that make our planet as colorful as it is.

Perhaps this goes all the way back to early childhood, and maybe I can blame the fact that I grew up as an only child with a globe in my room. I had plenty of time to spin the globe and to memorize the location and the labels on places as far off as Zaire, Mongolia, or the Soviet Union. (My globe was slightly outdated, but not too bad for growing up in the early nineties). Suddenly, when I would find myself somewhere new like Turkey or France, it didn’t feel so much like a novelty, but a bit more like meeting an old friend. Or perhaps a relative that I only knew from seeing in old family photographs.

Last week, I caught myself in the middle of Bratislava, Slovakia- somewhere I never really anticipated finding myself. I caught myself being constantly amazed by every new experience. I met an exchange student from Harvard and he immediately showed me around the old town square. I was in awe at how cheap I could purchase some incredible groceries from the hypermarket. I had a blast talking with my hostel’s cleaner using the only five Slovak words I had in my vocabulary. I was blown away by the quality of the meal I had that night- a goat cheese gnocchi with large cuts of cubed pancetta. Not to mention the very large beer that accompanied that dinner.

From there I went to Brussels, and now Bordeaux. The past few days have been spent with Raquel and her new community of friends about to embark on their own study abroad experience. I’d been invited out to a meal of prosciutto wrapped french beans, and an evening of walking the main shopping strip. That was just the start of good things. The next day I would find myself invited to participate on a field trip to Les Dunes du Pyles, some of the most beautiful and epic sand dunes I’ve seen, spanning the mediterranean coastline. On top of that, the trip also included oyster tasting, which I wholeheartedly participated in.

Now, as I people watch with epic Icelandic lyrics setting the tone for the scene in front of me, I realize that this global perspective is something I don’t want to ever leave. Lord knows why I was born into the corner of the United States I came to know as home, but the world is so much larger than that immediate sphere.

Once I’m back in the United States, I know what I’m planning to do. For starters, I’ll get In N Out, and maybe spend a couple rounds in the batting cages. After all, that’s exactly what I told my Italian teacher I missed the most about home. After that, though, I’ll try to start laying the groundwork to see how the international sphere can always be a part of my own world. I’m already looking at a study abroad program next year in Argentina. I think in order to justify that, I’ll even switch my major. Global Studies is seeming pretty nice.

Most of all, I’ll leave with this significant takeaway- I will always need to see life with a global perspective. There is too much life outside one’s own national borders to do otherwise.

Philippe Lazaro2010