A Travellerspoint blog

June 2012

#18: Myself

What I learned in France...


my•self mahy-self]

Sometimes, when someone goes to look at something, they are caught head-on with their own reflection. When we critique someone, we often have to swallow our words after realizing that we commit the same mistakes. We go to point fingers and discover everyone else’s fingers pointed at us.

This is what happened in this photo and on this trip. I was riding the tram and thought it would be a good idea to document our mode of transport in Strasbourg. I am a huge fan of public transportation, so this picture was a no-brainer. But when I tried to take a picture of the schedule outside the tram, my camera focused instead on the dirty tram car window.

When we go somewhere as learners rather than as leaders, we are often brought to a point of humility. Trying to adjust to a new culture, a new language, and a new time zone can leave someone exhausted and cranky. Most of my previous out-of-the-country experience was for missions purposes, with the mindset that I would bring the Gospel to the people. While we are called to share the Good News and make disciples, we are also called to do so in love and in humility. Going somewhere new with an imperialist mindset can therefore ruin relationships with the local people as well as keep us from learning from others.

But when we go somewhere new with a willingness to learn, we see things about ourselves that perhaps need to be changed. Similarly, I found the filthy window, which manipulated my outlook, when I went to photograph the schedule outside.

By focusing on how to love others in a cosmopolitan world, I learned seven major things about life and about myself:

1. Global cosmopolitanism begins with local compassion. I was struck that I was concentrating so much on big things, like better education systems, poverty, and hunger and yet ignoring the poor around me. I walked past people sitting on street corners begging for food. It took me a week to realize that if I couldn’t love people, I couldn’t say I loved the world.

2. I must love people as individuals before speaking of global humanity. Similar the first lesson, I realized that I should begin with those who were closest to me. At times I struggled to view my peers and classmates with love, but God reminded me of His love for all, including my friends.

3. I should learn from others instead of always trying to bring something – education, food, aid – to them. In Ethiopia we experienced what it looks like for a national to lead an American. It was humbling. We washed the Ethiopian leaders’ feet at the end of the week, not out of false humility, but out of our genuine appreciation for them and gratitude to God for them.

4. It is good to learn how to be a cultural citizen instead of a global leader. We emphasize leadership so much, especially at my school. But sometimes, instead of being a leader-at-the-front, we need to just be. We need to swallow our pride and become the least of these. We need to reflect Jesus as servant leaders.

5. I meet everyone in my life for a reason. I had some unique conversations with other tourists (with whom I could speak English). I learned a lot from each person I talked with, even if doing so only taught me more about American life and culture.

6. Conversation is powerful. If God spoke and created the universe, and if He said that words hold the power of life or death, then words are important. By talking with others, we tear down miscommunication and are better-able to understand and relate to people.

7. Even though I need people, I also need my personal time for rest, reflection, and rejuvenation. I love people. There’s a reason I want to teach. But also reach a limit. I realized that to be able to love people to a max, I need to know when I max out, so that I can recharge. A couple of hours on my own work like magic.

I’m sure that I will continue to learn from this trip as I live out my life. This summer I will live in a diverse community and can put what I learned about a macro-scale cosmopolitanism into micro-scale. As I teach kids in the future, I will have an even better standing of what to teach them about community.

Lest I forget, I’m including a list of trip highlights:

-Making of the Savage exhibit
-Arab museum
-Visiting Sacré Couer with Mrs. Downer
-Feeding fish at Versailles
-Sitting in on a European Court of Human Rights hearing
-Riding the trams with Sarah in Strasbourg for two hours one day
-Watching soccer
-Free Wifi at McDonalds
-Eiffel Tower
-Coffee and pastry with Mrs. Downer, Susanna, and Sarah
-Centre Pompidou
-Notre Dame
-Meeting a family from Germany at Notre Dame
-Cathedral in Strasbourg, especially sitting in there during a service
-Fondue (and all homemade group meals)
-Concentration camp
-Arc de Triumph
-Musee d’Orsey
-Meeting an author and his wife in JFK

Thank you to Dr. Mills for his fantastic trip-planning skills, and to my parents for letting me go! :)

Posted by klewis91 04:57 Comments (0)

#3: Cosmopolitanism

Living in the world...


cos•mo•pol•i•tan [koz-muh-pol-i-tn]
adjective: free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments; at home all over the world; belonging to all the world; not limited to just one part of the world.

On our last Saturday in Paris, I visited an outdoor market with a friend. Paris is designed and labeled as a spiral, in which “one” is in the core of the city, and then the numbers spiral out. We were in the nineteenth or twentieth section of the city, making us fairly far out from the city center. This was fine with me, as the closer one is to the center, the harder it is to find housing for a large group likes ours. Additionally, when the city was redesigned after the revolution, the housing was redesigned. Instead of social classes living a stratified life in one building, with the highest classes on the bottom and the poorest classes on the top, classes were now more divided, with the wealthy living in the center of the city and the poor moving to the outskirts. Therefore, our hostel in Paris was located in a large North African immigrant population.

Going to market on Saturday reminded me of a similar experience in Ethiopia, only more diverse. Men of Arab descent sold brightly-colored, cheaply-made clothing. Men from China sold African handmade gifts of the touristy type. A family of Middle-Eastern or North African descent sold crepes, fried dough, and sandwiches. Booths aimed at tourists and at locals flooded the parking lot. It was like a convention of everyone living in Paris who wasn’t originally French. When they realized I didn’t speak French, they were so kind, perhaps because they themselves were still learning the language. Instead, we gestured, and occasionally they would use their broken English to explain where they were from or to give us a good deal on a scarf or ring. Seeing a group so diverse that seemed to flow so well was a marvelous thing.

Cosmopolitanism, according to author and philosopher Wame Anthony Appiah, must balance two ideas. These are 1) we value other people, and 2) we value individuals and not just the larger group. This holds equally in tension the values for global interconnection as well as pride for individual cultures.

We live in a world in which different cultures collide daily. Europe, for example, operates in an almost borderless manner, so that countries within their treaty allow people to move around freely. With the spread of people come the questions of security, of tolerance, and of cultural purity. One wants to remain safe, one wants to ensure that neither they nor others are crushed due to differing opinions, and one wants to protect his culture from dying. How can we love others in a cosmopolitan world? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And how do we know what they would want us to do? Talk with them.

The market was a beautiful picture of cosmopolitanism because different cultures were coming together, primarily for business, but also to share joint cultures. The shopkeepers and shoppers were mainly immigrants, or at least looked like immigrants, and were probably taken back to their homelands on days like these. Most countries have open-air markets like this; my friend was reminded of her childhood in Africa when she saw the booths. The people know how to live together, share experiences, tolerate differing religions, and benefit the group as well as themselves. They seemed to know how to be sensitive about the other people, but also able and willing to step up and not worry too much about others, in order to make their own profit as well.

Likewise, cosmopolitanism requires sensitivity and boldness. We must be sensitive, not wrecking havoc on intercultural relationships by carelessly being “too American.” But if we are too careful, we will always accommodate and will therefore lose our cultural identity. We need to live with purpose in a cosmopolitan world, but also with sensitivity to those around us. And we need to live with the courage to converse, to not just assume, but to articulate our opinions and ask for those of others. We may not always agree, but we can agree to disagree.

Posted by klewis91 04:12 Comments (0)

#1: Borders

Open and close...


bor•der [bawr-der]
noun: the line that separates one country, state, province, etc., from another; frontier line: You cannot cross the border without a visa.

Borders play several important roles. They exclude, but they also include. The separate and they welcome. During my time in Strasbourg and in Paris, I saw a number of borders. I walked across the France-Germany border. I photographed doors and windows covered in barbed wire at a concentration camp. I found doors of such variety in every place I went: golden gates in Versailles, squatty passageways leading off the Philosopher’s Walk in Heidelberg, bars to confine drunken college students at an old university, walls to block intruders to castles.

Borders are neutral entities, yet they can be used to include or exclude. The gates at Versailles were used to keep the general populace out of the way of the French royals. The stone castle walls were erected to defend those inside.

Borders are a tricky thing, because one wants to ensure safety without excluding everyone. It is far easier to tip to one side or the other than to maintain balance. We can create a border that is all wall, a border that is all door, or a border that is mostly wall but includes a door. The last of these is the most sensible, but then we must figure how large our door should be. Who should be allowed to pass through? Like a gold miner, should we be picky about who passes through our border?

This photograph was taken at the Arab museum, a marvelous institute which highlights the impact of the Arab world on ancient and contemporary culture. I found these windows to be fascinating. They move depending on the placement of the sun and the temperature of the building. Sensors beckon them to open and close. They serve an important purpose by blocking out and letting in sunlight.

I thought this was a good metaphor for the concept of borders. I appreciate these windows because they don’t let all sunlight in, but neither do they hinder it. They are flexible and dependent on the building’s needs. Countries struggle with border protection because they want to let people into their country for educational or economic benefit, but they don’t want to let in potential danger. I think we can formulate a strategy that is fair and does not exclude on the basis of heritage or religion. Like this window, we can have specific guidelines that allow us to open and close our borders.

Borders are important. They protect us. And yet, if we are too protective, we will miss the benefits of welcoming the stranger.

Posted by klewis91 05:42 Comments (0)

#4: Europe

Past and present...


Eu•rope [yoor-uhp]
Noun: a continent in the W part of the landmass lying between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, separated from Asia by the Ural Mountains on the E and the Caucasus Mountains and the Black and Caspian seas on the SE. In British usage, Europe sometimes contrasts with England. 702,300,000 including the Russian Federation; about 4,017,000 sq. mi. (10,404,000 sq. km).

During a visit to a Swiss castle, I peered out of the ancient, centuries-old castle to see a glimpse of a modern, high-tech bridge swerving around the base of a mountain. It seemed so ironic. I was standing in this old, stone castle, while right outside was this much newer, carefully engineered bridge carrying automobiles to and fro.

Europe is a mix of the old and the new. While it is an innovative continent, moving forward, it retains its ties to the past. The number of monuments, museums, and castles I visited in two weeks was astounding. Museé d’Orsey, the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Arc de Triumph, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame – these were just a few! Yes, the history rich.

Yet Europe does not dwell in its history. It remembers it, but it moves forwards. It builds bridges, not just for transport, but for people. It has established the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights in order to prevent future world wars and to ensure that there are open lines of communication between countries. They feature exhibits about their mistakes, allowing guests to visit concentration camps, exhibits about European imperialism, and museums about their mistreatment of cultures once deemed inferior. Their close proximity to each other as European countries, as well as their immediacy to Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, requires them to right their wrongs.

Europe certainly is not perfect, and there are certainly still things they wrestle with. History does repeat itself, and Europeans must now grapple with the immigration of Muslims to their continent. However, as long as communication is maintained and people seek to reach out to the other, embracing instead of excluding, I believe that Europe can continue to work through new issues with their synergetic force.

Posted by klewis91 05:12 Comments (0)

#5: Exclusion

Keeping the other out...

An instrument used to measure human skulls

A book used to record and compare hair, eye, and skin colors

ex•clude [ik-sklood]
verb: to shut or keep out; prevent the entrance of.

There is an exhibit in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., which timelines the Nazi’s attempt to expel Jews from Europe. Towards the beginning of the exhibit is a section that looks at the biological data that German scientists collected on various ethnicities. Their goal, stemming from the theory of Darwinian evolution, was to prove that the Aryan race was superior to all others. By measuring head size, taking hair samples, and comparing eye colors, scientists believed that they could determine who was of the highest physical value in order to breed and build a better Germany. As a result, those deemed “less evolved,” such as people with disabilities, gypsies, and Jews, were to be prevented from raising families, either by forced sterilization or by death.

When I went to visit Museé du Quai Branley a Parisian museum featuring exhibits on Africa, American, Asian, and Pacific culture, I saw similar objects to the ones I saw in DC. I saw a book of color samples, used to compare skin, hair, and eyes. I saw an instrument used to measure the size of human skulls. The contraption looked more like a torture implement to me. These were in an exhibit called, “The Making of the Human Savage.” Essentially, it discussed the human fear of and fascination with things which are different. The exhibit carried paintings and sketches done of people with grotesque physical maladies. It then described how these individuals were put into side shows. Later, people from different ethnic backgrounds were featured in these human zoos. The biological differences between a European and a non-European were deemed so great that the non-European was dehumanized to the point that he was featured in a traveling exhibit. The intent of these exhibits was to shock and entertain. They also served the purpose of solidifying Darwinian values in the minds of the attendees.

When we dehumanize someone, we exclude them. Lest we begin to claim our innocence, let me give some examples of how we do this. We sigh when we have to build ramps and elevators in able to accommodate people bound to walkers or wheelchairs. We resist the notion of affirmative action, deeming it “reverse racism,” and no, we’re not racists; in this we prevent minority scholars from moving forward in their education. We refuse to look into the eyes of people on the street holding cardboard signs and a cup of coins. We think that if we look, we have to give, and that sparing a quarter, a meal, or just a minute to talk will rob us of our pleasure.

In a previous post I discussed the notion of “embrace.” This is the idea of including “the other.’’ This is the idea of esteeming every human life as worthy of love, acceptance, and acknowledgement. It means making sacrifices in order to keep to these values. For example, making a mountain-top monastery handicap-accessible takes time and money and may not seem like a worthwhile pursuit, but it dignifies the one who could otherwise not visit.

Posted by klewis91 04:52 Comments (0)

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