Just four days after arriving in the city of Mechelen, I hit the road again. This time for the sights of Berlin. The harsh throat sounds of the Flemish language greeted me as I arrived at the coach park. It was slightly intimidating at first, you know, the whole not knowing what is going on because you can’t understand what people are staying.
I felt rude asking people around me if they spoke English because of course, they did. Every person I have come in the contact with speaks one, if not two, more languages besides their Flemish mother tongue. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t articulate a simple native sentence to show my appreciation.
From one country to another, myself, among 299 other Thomas More media students, arrived in Berlin nine hours later. I was put in a room with three people I would eventually sit next to in class when we returned to Mechelen.
Over that week, I became more comfortable with the openness in which these contemporary Belgians behaved. No question was too inquisitive, nor was changing clothes in any way a private event. Everything was out in the open, quite literary.
Progressively, I came to realise how even though globalisation has made the people of the world more identical than ever before with the materials we own, endearing cultural quirks are still prevalent and there for us to experience.
The biggest take away from the experience, however, was the peace I found in what could have been a hellish strike of anxiety. I already felt pretty deep on the scale of personal venture, but before I knew it, I had agreed to approach twenty five people in the streets of Berlin to ask a seemingly random question for my first uni assignment.
Embracing humility was my antidote and I frequently found myself laughing about it. I thought, come on, how could I push myself any further? Ask the next guy I saw to kiss me. I was already in a state of feeling on the edge of discomfort with the language barrier, but somehow, I felt a flood of composure. Peculiar, I know.
How in cheese heaven could asking people if they happened to know information about a dead vegetable growing hipster, who build the degrading treehouse in Kreuzberg district, create peace within? I have come to believe that it was the act of surrendering to the omnipresent ego that did the trick.
I had built a narrative about myself. I structured ‘who I am’ on the things I have accomplished, the people I know and the impressions I leave with people. So when I found myself in a situation where one knew who I was or what I was good at, the title I held about myself vanished. Outside of my home bubble, I was nobody in particle, no one special; just a young woman with an English accent. That’s it. Nothing more and nothing less.
It was liberating because I realised something profound. It’s goes something like this: we build a narrative that we tell ourselves and others to feel like we have an identity worthy of acceptance. It blew my mind! I had this idea that I was composed and knowledgeable, so I felt out of place or ‘out of my identity’ to appear stupid because, clearly, I could just google the question.
Realising this, I now see how conforming to an identity is a pointless act. Doing something or saying something simply because it fits with the ‘type of person’ you pride yourself to be, is meaningless. Interacting with the world in line with our core values and embracing humility creates so much more purpose.
By holding myself accountable to my value of safe vulnerability, I was able to have interesting conversations with a myriad of people that day on the streets of Berlin. For instance, I learnt about one woman’s love of handmade wooden German ornaments and why she finds them fascinating.
The point I am trying to make here is that the experience of wandering up to a stranger to ask a seemingly odd question was quite the opposite of my identity label, yet it was utterly fulfilling.
Thank you to Sara Jane Vanstone, second year Journalism student, for writing this. To find out more about Marjon’s Going Places Bursary contact the Marjon Futures team.
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