932: Confessions of a World Traveler
It’s amazing how quickly people adapt to their environment. We scan our surroundings, perceive people’s actions, and store our observations like a computer is programmed to. Then our brain commands the body to choose the same–colored socks as everyone else, talk in the same style, fit in with everyone else.
We are changed by our environment and the things we perceive around us.
I am a world traveler. Born in LA, I lived my first five years in Korea, the next five in Shanghai, two years in Texas, and currently, I am in Shenzhen. Along the way, I went to many other places for short periods of time, like New York City or Xi’an. I was a slightly different person in each of these places. My brain gathered different information in different areas.
When I first arrived in Shanghai as a six year old, the surrounding conditions I was used to completely shifted. I hated going to school because if I was away from my mother, I would scream and bawl my eyes out. To be away from my mother in such an unfamiliar place would be a horror movie in my little mind.
As I grew older, I realized that I had gotten my first dose of something magical: international school. I love the term, what it means, what it suggests for my later life. It’s the only kind of school I have ever been in and will probably continue to for the rest of my school life. So many interesting people coming from so many interesting places, all with their own personalities and cultures and none having to worry about fitting in, because technically no one did. International school is perfect for who I am.
International school has made me feel comfortable with people of all cultures and has taught me what the world is like.
Shanghai has a reputation for being old but high-tech, well-populated, and for having sophisticated education. After several years, I became used to living in this kind of refined cosmopolitan city and felt uncomfortable when I moved to Texas. It was different: dry and arid, where livestock galloped and made noises while we drove across the road.
What affected me most was the school. It was, yes, an international school, but less of one. There wasn’t a whole diversity of cultures from different countries and, with my dark hair and shyness, I stood out like a zebra among horses. Once, one of the boys even called me “Woman of Few Words”. Although I didn’t start acting like them all of a sudden, I observed how people walked, talked, the kind of jokes they made, what their standards were, et cetera. Soon, I began to walk, talk, find their jokes amusing, and live by their standards. I experienced a slight shift in who I was.
Then we abruptly moved to Shenzhen. I was glad to see an international school again and pretty much acted like I did in Shanghai, but older. But who I am has yet to noticeably change.
This life summary of mine portrays how your surroundings affect your selfhood. Traveling around gives me an opportunity to be in different circumstances and notice how that changes people around a lot.
I am not saying that this is a good or bad thing. I am not saying that the fact that your identity is impacted by your environment is something that increases your chance of survival, or has a negative effect on you. I’m stating that the environment often changes dramatically when you least expect it. When the external environment changes, your internal workings must shift along with it: your state of mind, your perspectives, your thoughts, your actions. I have realized this firsthand and am rather glad that I have. It’s astonishing how complex life is in this way. There are so many life lessons to learn, so many things yet to experience. I know that as I continue to grow and develop further, as I am only in middle school, I’ll learn much more. It’s hard to squeeze everything into one short human life span, but looking on the bright side, at least I’m able to try.