So often we crave the rush that comes with venturing into the foreign unknown. We seek an inordinate way of thinking, a unique distortion of our values or perhaps a wonderfully curious interaction with a place and its many stories. We wholeheartedly immerse ourselves in the exploration of the wide depths and breadths of the many political, economic and social differences we have grown to critique as a separate entity.
Coming from one semester abroad in China to another one in the Middle East, I always thought it were these greater system-based differences that brought the greatest internal and external growth from a journey abroad. But my first few days abroad in Israel reminds me of the way in which travel shapes us into better beings. While developing a better understanding on the varying perspectives of Israel as two states versus one state or a personal feel of the land as a holy ground to Jews, Muslims, Christians and Catholics is beyond valuable, it is one special feeling above all that reminds me of the sole purpose NYU encourages global ventures regardless of the course of study. It is the feeling of loss.
A self-designed Media & Data Analytics sophomore at NYU Gallatin, I came to Tel Aviv anticipating an exhilarating dive into the entrepreneurship scene within media platforms, computer science and data science. Yet what I feel more than anything else is the loss of recognition. Landing in a truly foreign site means letting go of assumptions. When I enter into a restaurant, I am reminded to let go of the assumption that everyone speaks the same language as I do. When I commute, I must let go of the assumption that the trains, buses or taxis operate the same way as those in my native country do. When I speak to a professor or an industry professional, I feel uncomfortable and lost when I am told to call them by their nickname. I lose the feeling of safety in my values. Will someone be offended or shattered if I speak freely about my political identity? Could actions that I take normally be considered a crime in this country? What is socially acceptable, and what is socially unacceptable where I now live?
I had forgotten that, in my first few weeks abroad in Shanghai, this feeling was etched deeply inside of me. The loss of familiarity was strong. Never before had I commuted through a Chinese line-by-line metro system. Never before had people asked to take pictures with me and my friends because “We look different.” Never before had I been so dependent on my knowledge of Mandarin. Never before had I been told not to critique the government’s plan in an academic paper. Experiences abroad reveal a deeper understanding of the self and the many personal reactions to the challenges of feeling culturally, politically and socially lost.
There is a great writer, Pico Iyer, who noted why exactly human beings choose to travel the world beyond the simple joys of sightseeing. He writes that “travel shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty. For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit.”
Stepping into this chapter at NYU Tel Aviv is like stepping into the unknown. Yet there is a playful rush to feeling lost. It is equally challenging and fruitful to speak with those who have been raised to live life in a far diverse manner than I have even begun to understand. And is a great joy to yet again take the leap of faith into an unfamiliar place with a uniquely vibrant culture and a wonderfully diverse lifestyle.