A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
I figured that the first Thanksgiving without the family would be a rough one. But Thursday came and went with no fanfare since I’m living in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday. It was simply another day and I wasn’t missing anything. Perhaps it was because I had Thanksgiving plans – a potluck picnic under the Harbor Bridge with an expat meetup group. As Friday passed in a blur of inefficient errands and the realization that the grocery stores have almost no traditional T-day foods* my mood started to drop. My energy to get a dish and walk over was waning. The more I travel and get to know myself, the more cognizant I am of the things that will cheer me up and the situations that will end up for the best if I can just force myself into them. And so it was with heavy feet and one of my favorite albums playing that I started the 2km uphill trudge to the bridge.
Upon arrival I dropped my plates and plastic cutlery and dished up an array of turkey, green bean casserole, stuffing, bread and pumpkin pie. I jumped into conversation with a small group and … just stood there awkwardly. I suck at cocktail party conversation back in the States. After doing well with the hostel crowd I had expected that having being American in common would be an automatic conversation starter. But, as it turns out, talking to a range of Americans is no easier for me when I’m on unfamiliar ground. What do I say? What do I ask? How do I figure out what they want to talk about?
Fortunately Chad and Samantha – a middle-aged couple from New Orleans and Hong Kong – took the lead and started. And having lived here for several years, they were full of information of what to do and see in Sydney. And so armed with a list of restaurants and shops to visit I loaded another plate of food (stuffing with dried cherries! pecan pie from scratch!), headed towards a new group and … just stood outside the ranks until Samantha waved me in and introduced me around. I really suck at breaking into cocktail party conversations.
The weather reminded me of home – cold drizzle to rain, blowing hard enough to be soaking us even under a bridge. Last year was apparently a warm day of turkey and stuffing on the beach. Oddly I think I found our conditions more comforting.
I met more people, and with each subsequent conversation I had something to contribute to, I eased up a little. And then I met a particle physicist with a PhD. Nerd cred. Who was going after a PhD in Geology. Who loves hiking and nature. Outdoors cred. Who wants to do awesome things but has hesitation about safety as a reasonable person and about meeting people as a borderline introvert. Nervous overthinking cred. And then I threw my nerd flag to find out that some of her best friends were in my high school class. And so connected through people 16 time-zones away we both breathed easier.
Enter a few stragglers with beers to the fray. Three guys, somewhere in the 25 to 35 range. Travelers of the world, all. Armed with stories of hiking the Himalayas, wading through floods in Cambodia, working in Ireland and visiting places in Africa where they’ve never had white visitors. I instantly saw in the most vocal the person I hoped to be. The confident, comfortable, sage storyteller. The man who seems to truly enjoy life and adventures, who has worked as any number of awesome things, who knows a little something about everything. I could be this guy. Someday, if my adventures give me more confidence and experience. Or possibly now if I just cowboy up on the confidence and fudge a little on the experience.
And as we hung out and drank another round, we continued to discuss the world and the news. Hiking came up and I couldn’t get in my story about the Icelandic volcano. Time travel, wormholes, and string theory came up and the physicist kept getting cut off before she could finish correcting the previous inaccurate point. And a common theme came out of the awesome stories – that they sounded awesome and commanded attention. And I saw in the most vocal the person I hoped not to be but at times find myself wearing.
We never see other people as they truly are. We see them as a mirror of ourselves. And there I saw into a mirror a vision of me I could be, one that I wanted a line item veto for. And that is my task. I can let this trip help to shape me or I can guide how this trip shapes me. The more people I meet, the more refined an image I can develop of who I want to be. If only I take the time to consciously see that.
* Whole turkeys, sweet potatoes, and French fried onions are hard to find. Rolls, stuffing mix and pumpkin pie filling were absent as well. And cranberry sauce just does not exist here.