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Al Otro Lado de la Calle


I had a revelation about two years ago when I was traveling abroad concerning the nature of understanding ourselves. Since then, I’ve been a firm believer in the mantra that distance brings clarity. To understand where you are from, you need to go somewhere else. To look at your life, your background, your culture through a clear lens, you need to first use that lens to see another scene. To see the big picture of yourself, you need to step back. Way back. In my case, even across an ocean. 


Now, of course, travel is a great privilege, especially internationally, and I would never want to give the implication that a person needs to buy a plane ticket to be self aware. Absolutely not. The marriage of distance and clarity simply came to me while I was traveling, and is something I think about a lot while I am away from home, but we can create the space of distance from ourselves in any place. When we put ourselves in the liminality of new situations, foreign settings, conversations outside of our normal discourse, or interact with people whose identities or ideologies differ from ours, we grow that space which can foster clarity. Yet if a person is able, I would recommend travel nevertheless whenever possible.


My advice may be premature, as I have not traveled internationally (or nationally) as often as many of my peers. However, for the next several months, I am humbly studying abroad in Spain at Saint Louis University’s Madrid campus. Every day presents an opportunity for growth. Most often, in the smallest ways. It’s when I trust myself to remember how I got  somewhere, rather than use Google Maps. It’s when I muster up the courage to ask the store clerk, the museum guide or a stranger something in Spanish. Learning Spanish, learning the right side of the escalator to get on, and learning the appropriate times to smile all help me understand my own tongue, my own natural habits and social norms, and even aids in my understanding of human society. The differences between the United States and Spain are greater than the number of Santander ATMs in Madrid, or even greater than the annual revenue of El Corte Ingles. On the other hand, the similarities lie in how humans interact and communicate with each other. The differences may bring distance, but the similarities bring clarity to human experiences.

A couple days ago, for no apparent reason other than to switch up my normal routine, I crossed the street immediately after exiting the metro station following my last class to head to my host family’s house, and walked several blocks length on the opposite side of the street. I got a closer look at all of the stores, the maternity clinic, the supermarkets, everything that I had only seen from afar. I saw a different facet of Calle O’Donnell. Every day I am lucky enough to be enveloped in a culture, a language and a legacy distinct from mine. There is another girl, mirroring my image walking on the other side of the street. She brings distance to my clarity and understanding to the human condition. 

Aspiring writer and lover of puns studying environmental science and integrated strategic communication at Saint Louis University. From New Brighton, Minnesota. Learning in the space between.
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