How many times do we say to ourselves “if only this had been different or that had been different.” How often do we say to ourselves “why can’t that person see things from my perspective or I wish things were different.” If you are like me than you do this numerous times every single day. We are constantly wishing things were different such that it would make our lives easier or less stressful. As a minor in Humanitarian Affairs and future grad student in Conflict Resolution I often wonder why things in the world aren’t different. Why is it that people fight? Why is it that people hate one another just because of their skin color, religion, or sexual orientation? Why does it have to be an us vs. them mentality? I think deep down we all have a desire to change the world. If not change the world, then we at least want to make a positive impact on someones life.
If we want to create that change or as Gandhi puts it, “be the change we want to see in the world.” It is imperative that we learn how to change ourselves. We need to learn to be malleable and to critically look at it and think about the things going on around us in the world. I changed dramatically after I studied abroad in Paris for a semester. My entire view of the world (which I had held since my birth) was completely flipped upside down by my experience there. In America everyone rushes everywhere. As a native New Yorker I know better than to walk slowly down the sidewalk in Manhattan. People in the U.S. rarely take the time to eat lunch and many just skip the meal altogether. In Paris, everything was different. Not only did Parisians eat lunch but they would go to their neighborhood cafe with co-workers or friends and enjoy some food and wine. I would walk to class at noon and see them casually sitting around, sipping wine, and people watching people such as myself walk by. I didn’t realize it at the time but those things changed me. Living in that environment altered my view on life and on what truly matters. Enjoyment and company should supersede making a ton of money.
The change that occurred in me helped me to relate better to people who had a different worldview from me. No longer did I hold the notion that the French are lazy people. Rather they get the necessary work done in a suitable amount of time and spent the rest of their day relaxing and enjoying life. If we want to help people in the world, it is excruciatingly important to be able to relate to them and get on their level. Study abroad helped me to do that because it exposed me to people of different cultures with different values and beliefs. Yet, in all my time there, I never felt like I was superior to anyone and they never felt like they were superior to me. We were all on the same playing field, experiencing our youth in Paris together.
Personal change is hard. Once it is achieved however, it will pay dividends you couldn’t have dreamed of.