“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”Christchurch, Spring 2012
“I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”
My apologies in advance, it’s a Thoreau kind of day so be prepared for lots of quotes. In my Rebuilding Christchurch class we’ve been talking a lot about caring: When is it justified, what do you do when people need help but don’t want it, is caring selfish because you do it to make yourself feel good? All interesting questions… but I’ve come to the conclusion that providing service does the most benefit for those on the providing end. Maybe sometime we do indeed do it to makes ourselves feel good, but what better way to attempt to shatter the theme of our own experiences than do put yourself in someone else’s situation? It’s not about giving because you have more and are therefore in some way superior; it is about venturing out of your comfort zone to break the confines of a narrow understanding.
This morning I woke up feeling suffocated. I felt like this all throughout high school and through a lot of college, especially in the most recent semester; it’s a frustrating feeling that used to make me shut down and isolate myself instead of being proactive. I have the burden of a strong Type A personality, and besides obsessive whining there is nothing that enrages me more than feeling like I’m wasting time. To reference Thoreau again, “…as if you could kill time without injuring eternity…” No, you can’t, therefore I am sick of taking undergraduate courses that are irrelevant to what I want to do, and I’m sick of being so comfortable all the time.
So far, New Zealand has been everything I hoped and expected it to be: people who I have a lot in common with, a pristine natural world, and a healthy distance from certain aspects of my life that I needed a break from. But I’m not going to attempt to create the illusion that this is an intense, upsetting, devastating, culture-shocking experience. The reality is, we can walk to the store and find almost any food we want, we know the language, and I live in a nice apartment with the ability to contact anyone at any time. Of course I am grateful for this stability and safety, but I need to do more and this will not be the end of my international travels.
I think the key to a study abroad experience like this one is to take advantage of the cultural opportunities that do exist. It is very easy to only spend time with other Americans, and while I’ve met some great people, I’m trying to make an effort to break out of that. While I was working on an essay for my Sociology of Health and Medicine course (the other class besides CHCH101 that I actually enjoy and find relevant), I met a gentleman in the common room who is here from a small island in the Pacific, finishing his degree in education so he can return home and teach in the impoverished village he grew up in. He was interested in the subject of my paper, and we ended up having an awesome conversation about health and educational inequalities. He brought up a lot of good points, one of which was that despite the immense poverty in his village, the people there are the happiest he’s ever come across. Say anything about American consumerism?
One of my biggest weaknesses is always being in a rush and taking on too much, so I don’t always take advantage of opportunities to pause and get to know other people. But I finally took the time to enjoy an evening with my flat mates from China and Iran. We had a fairly large aftershock in the middle of the night this weekend, and I brushed it off while it was happening but I had never stopped to consider how something like that would affect someone who had grown up in the middle of a war zone. I got truly lucky with awesome flat mates who are friendly, respectful, and open to sharing their personal experience (not to mention they are helping me improve my stir-fry making skills!).
Okay last quote, I promise. True to this title of this post, “Who shall say what prospect life offers to another? Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” I believe this is the beauty of service, of caring, of getting out of your comfort zone, whatever you want to call it. And I agree with Thoreau: we can’t break out of the theme of our own experiences. But as a result, shouldn’t those experiences be as dynamic as possible?
On a slightly different note, I don’t want to disregard Christchurch and the great things about New Zealand. This weekend was the last time ever that the red zone (the destroyed city center) would be accessible to the public before everything is demolished. While it was upsetting to see, I have to give this community a lot of credit. There is so little anger, and so much more collaboration and resilience. I don’t know that I could ever see myself living in New Zealand, but once I’ve seen more of the world I hope that the place I settle down in will be filled with people who share the mindset, patience, and respect that is shared by the people here.
Thank you Thoreau for your insight, and thanks to every one of you who take the time out of your busy schedules to listen to my babbling thoughts. Cheers.
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