In the summer of 2014, I worked at McDonalds for a month, got funding from my college and went to the US. On my own.
I was scared, my parents were also scared but it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I had previously written about that month in my previous blog (“The Report”). If you want to read the first post on this experience, click here.
I had wanted to write this post as soon as I came back from the US. Life, however, caught up with me and then university started and I got lost.
It’s been a few months and my stint in DC almost seems like an illusion. But then I sit down and I think about my experience and what it has taught me.
I learnt to not be afraid of being on my own with my thoughts. I was there, on my own and sometimes I could just spend a day without having a real conversation with anyone. Just me and my thoughts. Or just me and the silence. I’m now comfortable with that silence.
I learnt that the best conversations can happen after bizarre events happening in coffee shops. I was at DC Chinatown’s Starbucks, a woman interrupts me from reading my book and asks me to write an email for her. I spend the next half hour being dictated things like “I’ve sent you $10 to buy a cheeseburger at McDonalds” and “Make sure that you don’t spend too much time looking at the computer screen” and “Shower”, the recommendations of a mother to her med school student son. And then I spend the rest of the evening until almost closing time talking to a stranger who witnessed my interaction wit the anxious mother and we talk about race, gender, politics and my possible thesis topic.
I learnt that although going to museums and visiting memorials can give you an overview of a place’s history, it is not until you interact with the locals that you truly absorb and can find out about people’s history, thoughts, society.
I learnt to be in a different place without necessarily taking a picture to prove that I was there. The best moments were spent not when I was taking the occasional picture of myself to make mom happy, but savoring the place, walking around the streets without using a map; going to different law schools and asking them about admissions; having a salad at Chop’t; having coffee at some obscure place; talking to people from all around the world staying at my hostel.
People talk about traveling and loving the idea of engaging in the practice. What they talk about is going to different places, eat the local food, visit the main tourist landmarks, staying in a nice hotel, taking pictures and potentially practicing their language skills. Another place to add to the map of where they have been. I figured out that that kind of traveling gives me little but the sharing of an experience with my friends. Traveling on my own gave me the chance to experience a different culture, trying to understand it and dissect it and at the same time it gave me the time to get to grips with myself, a myself that I was not aware of, a myself that came about.
And for the first time, being alone didn’t bring a sense of loneliness but one of self-discovery and peace.