Uprooted

This piece is an excerpt from a journal when I traveled to Switzerland to teach English. It is about comparing the two cultures through the lens of a teacher.

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“Uprooted”

Things are good here in Switzerland. I love the culture, the people, the schools. How life has taken on a new energy and everything feels like the first time.  As if my life in the states was a different planet, a different life. But with all the good, there has been a emotional monster lurking. I can’t explain concretely or accurately. But with each breath, there’s fluttering in my chest, filling my insides with insecurity, anticipation. I have been trying to understand this feeling the entire time I’ve been here in Zurich. It attacks me at night full of energy, as if it’s been sleeping all day.

At night, I think about what I have learned from home and compare it to my experience here. I think about how different things are here. How different things are at home. How everything feels new,  but slightly familiar, slightly contradictory. Then I wonder is one way of doing things right or wrong? Do we always have to decide if there is a right and wrong way of doing things? Have I been learning the wrong things all along? Then, I think about how big the world is and how many other things there are to learn. These are just two cultures I am comparing. Maybe we are both wrong. I sink into a puddle of wine. If you can’t know anything to be true, is there anything worth learning?

I initially thought this anxiety of over-thinking was due to jet lag. Jet lag has always been synonymous with irrationality. I think we all agree on this.

But this goes beyond temperamental instability right now. I feel displaced not just physically, but mentally. Like my thoughts are a plant that have been growing and thriving have been suddenly dug out. The roots, her most vulnerable and most valuable parts, naked and dangling. Exposed.

I have spent the last few months learning and growing at home. Learning how a teacher teaches. Learning how students learn. The goal was to be replanted here in Switzerland and continue learning and growing. Build upon the foundation that was started at home, add some Swiss spice to diversify it.

But this process has been surprisingly painful. I find myself more often than not trying to make room for conflicting information. Like a tooth being pulled to make room for a new one. Or maybe, this is more like braces. An outside force moving things without my body’s consent.

To be honest, traveling to Switzerland has grown into something much different than what it was originally. I am learning things that go beyond a classroom. I am learning about societies. Communities. Relationships. Language.

I was sent here to teach and observe. And now I am here to see and understand my surroundings. I am trying to be objective. But being objective is weird and certainly not a natural human skill or instinct. To be truly objective, you have to set side aside your past experiences, assumptions and views. You have to make a judgement not based upon your own personal thoughts or experiences, but as some sort of empty vessel.

Objective (adj): not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

I am trying to keep this in the front of my mind as I am here in Switzerland. Be objective. Absorb as much as you can. Don’t let contradicting ideas scare you. But with this I am placing a pressure on myself to learn as much as possible, see things through a lens that is different than a tourist. Different than a visitor. Different than a traveler. And in this process, I see details that both disturb and amaze me. It’s exhausting.

When I come across a group of tourists, I always see the same things. Fingers pointing, phones out, cameras taking pictures. Smiles and dropped jaws. They are admiring. Falling in love. Absorbing everything. But, I am not sure if I am here to admire. I think I am here to just look. And I think this is why I am uncomfortable. Tourists come to stand in awe. But me, as an ambassador, a researcher, I’m not sure if it is my job to admire. And because of this, I am anxious. What will I find? Will it fit in nicely to my already built puzzle piece or destroy everything. More things to come.

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swiss mountains

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Sierra Leone

While living in Seattle I was doing a fair amount of photography for my friends. Odd jobs for engagements, weddings and head shots. My camera was always with me and I was posting a lot of photos on an old blog. During this time, I was lucky enough to connect with a few non-profits to do some photojournalism and branding with them. One of them being Schools for Salone. This non-profit has the absolute coolest team of ex-Peace Core workers who worked from as early as the 70’s to present day.

During the summer of 2010, I saved enough money to buy a plane ticket went to Bo, Sierra Leone to do photojournalism for one of their locally ran teachers workshops. I stayed in a two story building, went to the workshop every morning and walked to the internet cafe every afternoon to write and process photos. I loved it.

There are a handful of stories and letters I wrote home that I will publish in the next coming weeks. It was a transforming time for me personally as a writer and photographer, but really just my perspective on humanity. Before Sierra Leone I would like to think that I was worldly, but I wasn’t. All I knew about the world was from books and articles. My experience was limited and naive. Going to Sierra Leone launched me in a direction that I am still trying to navigate and gave me a purpose I am still trying to understand. It ultimately gave me a renewed appreciation for good education, good communication, good community and good journalism.

I’m hoping that the stories I share about this trip catalyze some sort of new thoughts for you. Stories are powerful.

Stay tuned.

Peace
Students from local village

Things I Think I Know For Sure

This is a list of things I think I know for sure…

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  1. Ask Good Questions- Knowing how to ask questions is good skill to learn. I learned the importance of asking good questions from having a friend who made good friends everywhere he went. Do you want to know the secret? He asked good questions. This is a good habit to make while traveling alone or at a new job. You never know when you might need to lean on the good will of a stranger and you can never have too many friends.
  2. Try to be an animal person (or at least pretend) – Find at least one animal you could be roomies with.  Animal people are always on top in life. They are happier and nicer. I’ve read somewhere that when a creature is dependent on a person for survival, it gives the human a sense of purpose which translates to your view of your self worth. So, having purpose is important, even if it is just because you have a goldfish.
  3. Brush your teeth – This is a no brainer. Your teeth are important and dentist bills are expensive. My advice? Have more than one toothbrush stowed away in different places. Keep one in your car, purse and at home. I promise this is a good idea.  You will always be prepared for any impromptu trips or a hot date. Say no to cavities and bad breath.
  4. Follow through- Honestly, you look like a dick when you don’t finish things or don’t show up to commitments. If you truly cannot manage to keep your word, write a hand written apology that doesn’t seem like a drawled out excuse.
  5. Bring Allergy pills when traveling –  You never know what sort of foreign pollen will destabilize your entire trip. Just bring a few, just in case. You don’t want to spend all your time inside.
  6. Read When you don’t read your brain becomes lazy. Don’t be a lazy-brained person. By not reading, you are living life in the dark and short changing your brains potential to understand your surroundings. There are so many great minds who have have novels full of advice and entertainment. Go read.
  7. Be a good guest- If you are invited to someones house for a meal, you either need to bring drinks or do the dishes—no exceptions.
  8. Hang out with your parents or parent-like figures- Most older people are treasures full of wisdom, life, and love. Take advantage of this while you can. Be a sponge.
  9. Walk Get outside and walk. I recommend a place that doesn’t have noise or traffic. Walking is good for the mind, heart and body. This I know for sure.
  10. Be a funny friend for someone else in a tough situation- Every decent 90’s comedy has a funny best friend for a reason. The main character is bound to run a muck, fall into a pit of tears and need to be picked up again. The funny best friend is the savior. Be that friend. Being able to make someone laugh when they are down is probably better than giving them wads of cash (unless they are crying over loosing wads of cash). Be a good friend. Ask them good questions. Let them play with your dog. Give them your favorite book, allergy pills and a toothbrush. Or just make them laugh.

That’s it for now. Check back later for more! Like what you read? Read more!