- December 16, 2015
- Posted by: Anjana Sreedhar
- Category: Ambassador, Wednesday Wisdom
Being removed from your comfort zone is often an intimidating and terrifying experience. Everything around you is not only new and seemingly foreign, but often times requires a different approach. However, we can find in these moments of deep vulnerability the strength and courage to learn and grow. Everyday Ambassador is proud to feature our very own Partnerships Management Intern, Kailey Kirkwood, on today’s Wednesday Wisdom. Kailey is a high school senior at Phillips Academy Andover, a boarding school in Massachusetts. She spent her junior year abroad in France with SYA and lived in homestay to further understand cultural immersion. In her college search, Kailey hopes to pursue a major in both French and International Relations with a future goal of pursuing some form of global humanitarian work. In her free time, Kailey enjoys dance (ballet, modern, jazz), writing, and soaking up some sun in her home town of San Francisco, California.
Eradicate all that you know. Your knowledge is not useful here. Allow the words of foreign tongues to wash over you. Obviate your essence and personality: there is no room for these things here.
In a new land, you are senseless, you are silent, you are learning. You are learning quickly that personality provides comfort, but character is nearly impossible without adequate words. You may not know what to say all the time – that is the hardest thing to accept.
I spent my junior of high school year abroad in Rennes, France with a program called SYA (School Year Abroad). There, my reality quickly altered from a state of knowledge and comfort to a state of chaos and confusion. The first six months were lost in trails of broken French words, static American accents, and culture shock. At first, I craved the loud piercing voices and the intoxicating laughter that spreads from one rowdy American child to the next. I yearned for my country. I longed for my impolite abode – the place where the louder you speak, the more you blend in. However, this was not to be found and soon my expectations shifted to a place where I fully accepted the chaos of uncertainty.
Looking back at that experience, six months after the plane left the wet pavement and Paris dissipated behind thick clouds, I still remember every moment clearly. Each moment is wrapped in gems of confusion, happiness, loss, and eventual comprehension. No one can prepare you for full immersion in another culture, but once you have experienced that, it is hard not to want to claim that culture as your own. Immersion is not found simply between the broken lines of your livres de grammaire or in the words you miss in your conversation with a local shopkeeper. Immersion is found in the way you take your knife to a block of cheese, the subtlety of two kisses, one on each cheek, and the removal of your black boots each day as you enter the third floor of a pristine apartment. Immersion is thinking you know yourself, you know the expectations, you know the road map to life and then, all at once, realizing you know nothing.
Immersion is accepting that knowing nothing is sometimes more rewarding than knowing everything.
When most kiss their country goodbye and enter into a new abode, they hardly ever venture much further than the position of a tourist, and only if they are truly fortunate can they become an expatriate. It is hard to leave your home, but it is even harder to return. When you return, everything seems cloudy and new and not quite as surreal as it did when you left. So now I will give you the most monumental piece of advice that I have ever received: when you go to a new country, you are the ambassador for your own, but when you return you’re an ambassador for both. When you leave home, you have a perception of the way the world is, the way the world runs, and the simplicity of it all. Leave that behind. When you come back, perception dissipates with the reality of perspective. Carry that perspective with you for the rest of your life.
I will be the first advocate for anyone wishing to travel abroad. I would encourage you to take that step, but to understand that your two-week journey is only a portion of another’s life, and that my nine-month journey was still only a fraction of that life of the local boulangère, my host mother, and my teachers.
As much as I pretend, and love to believe that I know everything there is to know about French culture, I don’t, and I never will. But, even if I never will, I still cling to the knowledge that I had an incredible experience and for the rest of my life will carry the perspective of that experience.
“Wednesday Wisdom” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador Partnerships Manager Anjana Sreedhar. Every Wednesday, we will feature updates from our partners and reflections from the Everyday Ambassador community. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #wednesdaywisdom or #wordstoliveby on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.