It’s been over a week since I returned from Spain. After a harrowing near-miss at the airport with my buddy pass (the 20+ seats shown on the website as “available” were in all actuality -3… I was fortunate to take the place of a no-show) as well as a week of recovering from jet-lag, I have had some short time to reflect on some of what I have learned from this adventure.
1. No one should travel without a scarf. Douglas Adams must have meant “scarf” instead of “towel” for his Hitchhiker’s series. A scarf is so incredibly useful in so many ways…in this trip alone- I used one as a belt at times- which meant I did not have to take it off to go through airport metal detectors. It helped me “fit in” with the local fashion in Madrid so I was almost never picked out as a “stupid American”…if a European sees you wearing a scarf in the middle of summer, they assume you must be also from Europe, since no American would do so. A scarf can be used as a convenient cover up if you find yourself dressed less modestly than the environment expects, it’s excellent from going from the hot outdoors to frigid classrooms, and it can even serve as a good way to stop bleeding. Also, you can use a scarf to cover your face to hide your identity, as an impromptu mask to filter out terrible smells or blowing sand and Finally, they make great gifts. Scarves are awesome.
2. I have definitely picked the correct course of study… Although I have mostly distanced myself from my teenage interest in New Age garbage- some traces remain. One of those is the belief that synchronicities generally indicate one is traveling in the “correct” direction and making close to the correct decisions (a la “Celestine Prophecy”, most likely). The people I met randomly, most particularly Steve (the diplomat for Afghanistan) and John (The British cabinet member on Middle East education)- helped abolish any sort of doubt that studying Iran is the correct direction…so I am actually more passionate now than I was before in this regard.
Furthermore, I also was helped a great deal by the classes I took here- It was excellent having a new perspective on Islam and I really am not so terrible of a Philosophy major as I once thought. However, I now completely disagree with the idea that to be decent at philosophy one needs to be a logician. In speaking with my friend Dan- I believe it has become apparent that over-applying logic to life and ethical situations is limiting and creates more ethical conflicts instead of less…
3. Which leads into the idea of faith…When logic states that the premises and the way things exists can lead to no good end, the solution is not necessarily to discard or suppress what we cannot understand or reason with. Better, I believe the concepts of Faith and Religion are what tempers the intellect and prevents highly logical people from becoming sociopathic monsters. It’s better to admit “I don’t know how this could work, but I am willing to take a chance by following my heart/intuition/feeling”, rather than drawing immediate conclusions based on “evidence.”
Truth be told, we NEVER have enough evidence for anything, really…therefore, most decisions we make that are “logical” are only illusionary…what we are really doing is creating our own box to live in by our own rules. The rules of the universe are more complicated than we can possibly understand…any “rule” we create will be a gross oversimplification or generalization which may serve to limit us rather than set us free. When, in all honesty, all we really have is our preferences as to which things bring us the most joy in life.
Religion is the understanding that the truest nature of reality exists beyond our comprehension, Faith is the belief that we can trust that reality to work to our greatest benefit if we follow what could bring us the greatest long-term happiness, be it love and/or virtue; that this ultimate reality was created by a being of sentience and feeling as well as personal interest in our well-being. Mysticism, is completely discarding all illusions of any human-defined definatives- logic is used, but can ultimately be overruled by emotion or intuition.
To many people I spoke to, me traveling to Morocco was a highly illogical move on my part- I did not plan my hotel in advance, I was traveling alone, and I had no idea what would face me when I arrived. However, I can easily say my experiences there were among the most rewarding. Planning everything may be “safer”- but I don’t see how “safe” can lead to higher fulfillment or knowledge. The best one can hope for with “planned” is mild contentment and limiting one’s potential experiences… however, plans seldom work out in the way you intend them- therefore, in my life, I find not planning too rigidly and flexibility to be more rewarding.
…Sometimes, it’s just better to jump into the unknown.
4. I am actually somewhat social and I found that I missed people that I never expected to miss. Kristian being the first example that comes to mind…but I also found myself very excited if I happened to see someone like Dan or Fara on facebook chat. Even more ironic, age had nothing to do with the people I missed either. So, while on the trip the age difference seemed to be one of the defining differences between me in comparison to everyone else…back home, the opposite was true.
The best advice I received when I had troubles abroad came from people back home of an age difference of about 5-10 years (or more) in either direction … Facebook conversations and emails pretty much were the only thing keeping me sane at some points during this trip. However, I will also say the worst advice came from people who were either on the trip with me or close to my age at home.
5. In a sense, the trip felt like a second adolescence… I don’t mean in the “be completely irresponsible and act like a jackass” sort of way. I mean more of the experience of awkwardness and feeling extraordinarily out of place. I was a good 10 years older than most of the students who attended, and younger than the professors leaving me in a completely different place than just about everyone else. I spent a lot of time with Travis and Tori, which was good- if anyone was “close” out of the group it would be those two. However, the only time this feeling was completely ameliorated was when I traveled on my own and met other random strangers who, oddly enough, had more in their lives in which I could relate.
For the most part, I like traveling; it seems that everyone has a “travel” personality that they use when they are far from home…and as much as I sometimes think I am the exception, I think it’s more like (like everything else in my life) I just react differently. When I am abroad, I do my absolute best to be as accommodating as I can to local custom. Although I spoke hardly any Spanish, I still tried and got by pretty well with what I had overall. In both Spain as well as Morocco, I tried to dress in similar fashion to the locals to fade into the background as much as I could so as not to appear an obvious “foreigner” and therefore, a target for theft or harassment. This was important since carrying the huge camera I have already made me stand out- but I made all effort to try and appear like a local photographer rather than a rubbernecking tourist…with varying levels of success. I actually received many compliments for doing so, which is always a plus…and in Morocco, mint tea.
Additionally, I think I become more introspective to an extant…I think I am closer to a “normal” person abroad than I am at home since I think more of my mind is engaged when traveling, this gives me less free space in my mind to be as unusual as I am normally. However, the inherent problem with this is when traveling with a group of other people, most others reactions to travel is the complete opposite where they lose inhibitions where I gain them…making it not really work out for me so well socially. Especially if the expectation exists where I will be a “party” person or ethically flexible when this is actually far from the case in any situation.
Although I am a risk taker as well as an adventure seeker- I prefer to do so by “where” I go rather than “who” I become personally, if that makes any sense. As in, I would rather travel to Morocco with no plan in place than get completely drunk in any circumstance. The personal risk for injury might actually be the same in both scenarios…however, the second scenario is perceived as more dangerous simply because less people have experienced it.
Consequently, I am honestly better alone or with one other person of similar mindset if far from home.
However, I also learned that it takes a great deal of work to get someone I do like to see things from my perspective if they are not inclined to do so normally… but that, I think, was worth it….even if it was only a little better than before. (Hello Dr. Cantens…)
My goal of this trip was not to “have fun”…it was to learn…and I did learn a great deal, so in that way the trip exceeded my grandest expectations.However, the best I took from the experience was almost entirely from the classes or time spent outside of Jaen, either with the normal group I hung out with or alone.
However, inter-personally, the trip was a bit of a failure overall…I did meet and befriend a few of my classmates on the trip, however, the negative experiences I had still seem to hold some sort of mental priority over the positive, sadly. To say that one can “choose” how they perceive life is only partially true- you can choose your reactions, however, to pretend that the more negative aspects of this trip were enjoyable when it was not is simply denying myself and the reality of things.
I was in a social situation with people I basically had little to nothing in common with to begin with in background or values, and then thrust into a situation where I was completely and totally uncomfortable and to “fit in” would have compromised my goals and values (namely, to do well on the classes).
This will likely cue the ad-hominem responses accusing me of being pretentious or unfriendly…I am certain it will be posted by the same people that I personally feel the most opposite of me in values and action. Basically, if you feel the need to retort, it basically indicates that you and I just do not see eye to eye ethically…and that’s okay. I probably don’t like you all that much either. Chances are, there will not be another opportunity where you and I will share such space together again…and if you do meet someone like me in the future, let them be and let them enjoy what they enjoy without getting in the way or criticizing that it might not be the same for the majority…Especially if that enjoyment stems from something directly related to the present moment. A live an let live mentality is usually the best way to go- and I did not lose my cool until I was directly provoked- everyone has a breaking point, and although I was not proud I reached mine- I would love to not have that occur in the future.
Also, for the love of God, please don’t try to “defend” the odd man out- it’s condescending. The idea of defending a person who disagrees with you is actually somewhat disrespectful since you are using your own misplaced pity to justify their actions in accordance to your ethics which they may or may not agree with. Defending another person is only justifiable, I think- if they are acting outside of their normal parameters or if they are not present to speak for themselves. Otherwise, let them make their own case.
As for me, if I find myself in a similar situation in the future I will embrace my solitude and mentally follow the lead of a friend I know back home who has made both bearing and “vanishing” from awkward social situations into an art form.
I am grateful for the opportunity to study in Spain…however, I am equally grateful to be home and to better appreciate the people I enjoy here…and hang out with the people I met there in my own territory.
In most group situations there is a “lone wolf”- and just as in nature, many of them can survive perfectly well. (Without the people who think “differently” slavery would still be legal in the US and the Earth would still be believed to be “flat”) However, in nature what usually happens is those loners usually end up meeting and forming their own packs in different territory… and I can see some of that happening in this case as well.