As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things highest on my agenda was to have multiple experiences meeting people from other cultures. At first, I was pretty pessimistic that I would have the chance to have legitimate conversations with people from places that I’ve never been. After all, the vast majority of my interactions so far have been with fellow GLSers and Londoners. Over the past week, I’ve realized through three different instances that I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
The first experience I had came last week before my Statistics exam. Rather delving into my notes, I decided to take advantage of my opportunities in London and meet a family friend who grew up in the U.K. at a nearby pub. After getting to know him better and hanging out for quite a while, we noticed that the only other guys in the pub were a small group of Italians. Being the extroverts that we are, we immediately decided to go meet them. Much to our dismay, none of them could speak more English than, “Hello, I am Italian.” Despite the let down, we quickly picked up that they were all fluent in Spanish. Since we each know a bit of Spanish, the conversation quickly picked up. I’m not sure if you can picture the sight, but five grown men from three different countries were all talking in their second language. While the substance of our conversation didn’t go much past our different likes and dislikes of London, the weather, and an occasional dip into making fun of American politics, it was incredible to get to experience such an instance.
My second international interaction came at the Euro Hostel restaurant in Munich. After a few minutes, I met a Frenchman who was in Munich working with BMW. It didn’t take us long to get neck deep into conversations regarding the state of the European Union, the French point of view on America, and everything else under the sun. It’s really interesting to see what people from other countries think of America. At one point, he said that America has both the best and the worst of everything. While some may cling to this view, I couldn’t disagree more. Call me a nationalist, but it was difficult to explain to others the beauty of our country when they are convinced that our way is wrong. After a couple of snarky comments offered on each side, we decided to make amends and agree to disagree. At the end of the day, it’s not my job to prove my side but rather to learn to entertain the ideas of others, no matter how much I disagree.
The third and final instance that I’ll mention was easily the most powerful. After my trip to Dachau (the first concentration camp) on Saturday morning, an elderly German lady offered to give us directions back to the city centre. While waiting for the train, she immediately jumped into story after story. At first, we were apprehensive but then she started telling us more of her life story. At the end of the 40-minute train ride, I had received a first hand account of some of the most powerful points in our world’s history. Bridgette lived in the Czech Republic during the War. As a twelve year-old girl, she was in the basement of her house when the Russian invaders broke into her house. I wish I could tell you the exact stories that she shared, but they are too graphic for this blog. Additionally, she lived on the Dachau grounds after the War as a refugee. I can’t imagine the daily tragedy of living in such a place when I could barely make it through a three-hour tour. Her wisdom, experience, and willingness to share with us was a combination that I thought I’d never receive.
After this week, I’ve learned one maxim that I hope stays with me for the rest of my journey. If you take the time to listen, people will tell you truly incredible things. Throughout the remainder of my time, I hope I have many more opportunities to broaden my worldview, meet people from places that I’ll never go, and learn things in a way that no one else can.