By Molly Seaman
Studying abroad gave me a more objective sense of the fact that my reality and my sense of normalcy are miles away from the reality and sense of normalcy that others possess. During my first month in France, I wrote “I want to go home” until the phrase filled the page of my journal like a 1950’s chalkboard marked by the hand of an unruly child. Now I am going home, and I don’t want to. I’ve kept the tears inside my throat, but they’re still present.
There’s something about homesickness that sometimes cannot be erased by going home; in the past I missed my previous blindness. I think I wanted to go home at that point because I thought I couldn’t handle the shock of suddenly being an outsider, of suddenly realizing just how much I don’t know about the world, and of suddenly realizing just how privileged I really am. I’ve always tried to check my privilege, but now I know that I had no idea what privilege really means. I thought specific qualities yield privilege, but the fact is that privilege is the right to be comfortable existing as oneself in a given space. I learned this by listening, and, more notably, not by talking.*
Staying in France when I wanted to go home was the best decision I’ve ever made. Sure, I ameliorated my French skills, but my most important takeaway was the holistic love I have for my new friends. I am confident in the lifelong nature of my friendships with students who come from across the world from countries such as Russia, Taiwan, Oman, Japan, Belgium, Syria, Austria, South Korea, Mexico, Canada, and America. I have never before played cards with people from six different places around the world or eaten lunch with a person with whom I must communicate with in both my and their second language. I have learned that listening, sharing, and seeking to understand are truly acts of love and of respect.
I come back to America hoping that our country can grow the capacity to listen more often. In addition, we must learn that things we don’t understand or that we aren’t used to are not objectively better or worse. They’re just different. I cannot believe I thought I knew the definition of the word “normal”— or, in better words, that I thought I understood the subjectivity of normalcy. I am blown away by the abundance of difference in the world. While this abundance scared me at first, I have since learned to embrace it. I will continue to strengthen the bonds I now have with people from all over the world. I love them, and I love the capacity to listen that humans can possess. I promise to continue listening and I hope you begin to as well. Join me.
*Please feel free to reach out if you think my perception of privilege is erroneous. I know that I must continue to learn, that I cannot say I have learned everything about privilege. I definitely have not.