You may know this by now, but we like to consider ourselves worldly and global gals. We’ve hopped trains in Austria, taken surfing lessons in Ghana, and seen the old city of Jerusalem. We’ve communicated across boundaries, learned new languages, and seen weddings and funerals around the world.
Hanging out at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey
But when you return home from an international adventure of any kind, small or big, vacation or service, it can be a rocky adjustment back. I often find myself disconnected—the place I left is oceans away and yet still so present, and the place I am, which I used to easily refer to as “home,” feels foreign and full of hard edges. I no longer seem to understand where I came from; it feels as if there is a river flowing around me—everyone knows what to do, I SHOULD know what to do, but I’m an immovable stone saying “Wait! This feels uncomfortable now, this isn’t the only way to do it!”
This is reverse culture shock and it’s a tricky one to wrestle with. Even though I have been back in the states for over a year and half, it still hits me sometimes. It always comes when I am trying to order food or shop at the grocery store, and since I LOVE food, this happens often. I stand in the line at Chipotle, silently stressing out, because I don’t remember how this works. (Do I give my whole order all at once? Do they bring it to me after I’m done? What if I don’t know what the ingredients are?) And in the grocery store, I stand there under the fluorescent lights thinking, why are there so many dang choices? (Why do I need all of these things? What is this all about? WHAT IS HAPPENING?)
This rift, this disconnection, is where I have centered my life. I always seem to be in between something—nestled between two cultures, one side of me pulled in one direction, the other side, attempting to run the opposite way.
But this space is also beautiful—it is filled with color and light and understanding. I am constantly shifting, learning, pushing, pulling, recognizing new things about myself and others. This is the space meant for growth and change, this is my birthplace of global citizenship. In this space, I see that there are other ways of doing things. I see that my way is not the only way, and that it shouldn’t be. With every trip I take, every bridge I build across differences, my bird’s eye view gets higher and my worldview expands.
View of the Sahara Desert from the sky. Talk about a shift in perspective...
Global citizenship is a process of growth and it needs to be nurtured. To become true global citizens, we have to be aware of our biases and challenge them; we have to be willing to stand confused at the grocery store and recognize it as a completely unfamiliar experience, rather than just part and parcel of our routine.
The reason I’m so passionate about my work here at Imprints Press is that I seek to help others at a young age recognize and become comfortable with this “middle place.” Traveling isn’t the only way to find your way into these cracks; it’s through tolerance, understanding, teaching, and learning that we begin to see the light peek through.
Kids have such an amazing opportunity to soak up information—they are open and willing to learn. As twenty first century educators, we must step up to the plate, challenge ourselves to teach these big topics, and allow our students to find light and understanding in their role as global citizens.