When I was 12 years old, I remember looking around and being asked: “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” While I deeply love my family and friends where I was raised, I felt something deep inside me stir, as I responded: “I don’t know what I want to do, but I know where I want to be: Not here!” And so it was that at the age of 19, I moved out, of the house I was raised in, out of the country I grew up in. Nowadays, I tend to go back home for vacation every once in a while, and in doing so, I have noticed a disturbing tendency: at the same time as I am part of that place I call home, I am also just an outside observer looking in.
Most of my school colleagues decided to stay at home, go to university, and are on the best way to getting married and producing children. What always got me about them was the ideas they had about living abroad. They tended to take a 6 month internship somewhere, and then proudly proclaim (once back home) that they now had earned “experience abroad”, a vital part of any CV. Yet, they were essentially the same people that left! What was that experience they managed to hide so well from me?!
Recently, I started reading “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” by Gregory Bateson. In one of the essays, he talks about anthropology and the nature of groups. While determining different factors of analysis in groups, Bateson wrote:
“We may say that the patterns of thought of the individuals are so standardized that their behavior appears to them logical.”
What does that have to do with “experience abroad”? Well, think about it. Usually, people spend about 6 months abroad at any given time. This gives them enough time to observe (sic!) another culture, another way of doing things and thinking. Yet, they are continuously evaluating it from the standpoint of their culture, from what seems logical to them. And when they go home, they talk about “how different they do things over there”.
Let’s imagine the same situation, only this time the person spends 1 to 2 years abroad. This time, the person will not observe what is going on, this is actually enough time to fully try on a new culture, a new set of beliefs and values, and to explore a different thinking space of what is possible. When coming back home, the individual in question will evaluate the culture it grew up in from the mindset of the foreign culture. “This is how we did it back there, how come you do it like this here?”
Mother culture is continuously whispering to us about how things got be the way they are, and why how we act is completely logical. Yet, it never occurs to us that it is only logical for us. Leaving the country for any prolonged period of time gets that tune out of our mind, and lets us listen to a new one, with its similarities and differences.
Breaking the mould of thought that we grow up in is the single most important determinant of our success in becoming individuals. Why do you think the Aboriginals made their youth walk through the country for a year before being allowed back home? So, what are you? A copy of what mother culture expects, or have you broken your mould yet….