Each and every person in this world, in all the different countries, has a self-image. Most have this idea of who they are, and if they don’t then they are on a quest of figuring that out. Some people feel sorry for themselves, some people are overly comfortable with who they are, and some people don’t care. So what happens when all these different types of people are thrown together? What happens when a girl from an old confederate US state becomes best friends with a boy from West Africa?
The howling of the engine didn’t want to stop, I thought. The woman in a navy uniform seemed to have a smirk on her face. The murmur behind me was no longer understandable. Everything became blurry. My stomach churned, and that’s when I knew that eight long hours of vibrations would not work with my body. It could’ve been the nerves too, but I as I glanced at the seatbelt sign, I knew I couldn’t sit there any longer. The flight attendant snapped at me, “No, the seatbelt sign is on, you may not leave your seat,” in her thick British accent. I was going to be sick.
Twelve hours earlier I was sitting in my room, windows open, trying to catch a breeze. I had a friend with me, sad that I was leaving for the rest of the summer. “You have to keep a journal,” she told me. How could I not? I was about to depart for a foreign land for a whole month. I had never flown by myself, I had never traveled for that long by myself, and I had never thought I would be able to have this type of experience, all by myself. Then, there I was, at Gatwick Airport in London, England. I was on a mission to have a life changing experience, to see something different from good ole’ Georgia. My mission: Go to Cambridge, England for a month, meet as many people as possible, take great photographs, open myself up, learn something new. Day 1: I met two girls from Durango, Colorado and one girl from New Jersey, originally from England. Automatically we were great friends, but as the program progressed I met the most wonderfully diverse people I could ever imagine.
One third of the students in the program I attended in Cambridge were international students. I was able to become great friends with kids just like me from Hong Kong, Singapore, Burkina Faso, Italy, Canada, Turkey, Germany, and even the far off lands of New York City and Los Angeles. I realized how lucky I was to go on a trip so fascinating, but truth be told, it wasn’t the program I was most thankful for, it was the people. Back home in Georgia, life was all about football and the Braves. For food, there was always Chick-fil-A.
I was in a place where 253 students from around the world could fall in love. I was so utterly shocked when i left that I was able to see how amazing it was that all these different people could come together. We each agreed that, even if we were to go back to Cambridge, it wouldn’t be the same simply because we wouldn’t all be together. I witnessed a boy from the middle of nowhere Georgia, a boy from Turkey, and a boy from New York City join together in a song they all liked, granted I cannot say the name of the song in polite company, but boys will be boys all over the world.
I painted my nails with girls from the sandy beaches of Florida and the sandy beaches of Spain. No matter where we were from, what we looked like, or how wealthy we were, we couldn’t have enjoyed each other’s company any more.
The week after I came home from England, I started my third year of high school, excited to be an upperclassman, excited for football season, and excited to see my friends. But after the first week I felt lost. How could these people be happy not understanding the rest of the world? My best friend from the summer was in a country where paved roads are barely ever seen, where all his white clothes are stained orange from the dirt. My mind was always somewhere else for a while. My friend in Singapore promised to come to Atlanta and try our Coca- Cola. But would I ever really see him again? With the both of them I had sat alongside the river that runs through Cambridge, simply enjoying their company. We talked about our different worlds, but now I was back in mine, where no one seemed to care about the outside world.
The first thing I had to do was join Model United Nations. That would be the closest thing to international communication that I could find. Before I left, I had never thought of MUN, but now I feel passionate about hearing the way leaders around the world sit down and talk. I do enjoy participating in the conferences, but still it was all debate. More arguing that the news can pour out for us daily.
As I see it, the world is so caught up in superpowers, and third- world countries, who’s helping who, who has the best economy, or who has the best bombs. There’s so much competition and national self-absorption.
So my mission was complete. I did gain a lifelong lesson. I am so intrigued by the people around the world now. I have seen everyday teenagers live together in peace, but not just peace, with love and compassion. I now try to share with as many people as I can the wonderment of the program. There are so many kids from different religious backgrounds, kids from cities or the country, kids from impoverished nations, and kids from families torn apart by cultural differences in this world.
I want the entire world, young and old, to be able to go through the same experience. I want people to experience the friendship between people of different nationalities. So when I sit down with a scrumptious Chick-fil-A sandwich and an ice cold Coke, I am glad to be from Atlanta, but I am even more proud to be a person who is a part of this world where so many differences can exist.
So self-image, it is our conception of ourselves, or what we see as our role. Each and every one of us has that idea of who we are. We contribute that person to the world, and together we make a whole. What is your role? What is your best friend’s role? What should we do? All we need to do is take who we are and turn it into something constructive. Maybe I won’t be able to save the world and find “world peace,” but at least I can try, little by little. I do not believe that we are meant to just sit around and watch moments fly by, we are valuable, and our contribution is worthwhile. I just bought a shirt from some friends. Four boys started their own revolution, boys from Hong Kong, New York, and Los Angeles. They are doing their part by generating t-shirts. If that is how we will find friendships between distant lands, then let it be. I do believe that there is such a thing as world peace because I have experienced it.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.