Updated: Jan 28, 2021
You go away for a long time and return as a different person-
You never come all the way back.
When you spend some time outside of the place you grew up, you see your world through different eyes. You gain different experiences, meet people who open your eyes to a new world, and you begin to look back at your last few years from a different angle. You find yourself asking: Was that me? and Is that me? Does this event affect me and my way of seeing things?
It was the 12th of August, 2016 when I was standing at the airport in Hamburg and the only things with me after the security check was my passport, a backpack, and a one-way Ticket to New York City. After graduating high school, my big dream was to see and experience life in the United States. I knew that just being able to speak basic English would transform my world.
The biggest gift you get when you choose to go further than your doorstep is the critical moments you question your view towards what’s important in life. These moments end up shaping you and bring you a lot closer to the person you eventually become. Living with different host families who were initially strangers was what opened my eyes to an appreciation for all the things and people I have in my life. Eating from paper plates and throwing them away after each meal was definitely one of those moments that brought out a side in me I didn’t know before. The way I was raised was connected with being sustainable and using one glass for drinking water for more than two days so that we wouldn't need to turn on the dishwasher too often, to save water and therefore our planet.
I want to take you with me to Charlotte, the capital of the state of North Carolina on the east coast of the United States. It was a warm February day and I was by myself exploring this city I hadn't been to before. That’s where I met Justin (name changed), a local who spontaneously decided to join me on my city walk and showed me some special places and particularities connected with stories about the city and the way people live here. We were going towards a crossing when he suddenly stopped to point out a specific district that he didn’t consider safe to walk through. I asked myself: What determines what “safe” and “unsafe” neighborhoods are? Official crime rates or what we hear from people who heard from people it is not safe to go there? What does it even mean to be “unsafe”?
For me, everyone can decide for themselves what it means to be in a safe neighborhood, but to reduce that for example to the ethnicity of people who live there is in my eyes just not fair. It’s difficult to know that there might be mindless stereotypes preventing diversity from truly shining through.
I believe that safety is more something that we carry inside of us and it doesn’t matter that much where we are. Of course, an amount of curiosity should be there, and you should always trust your gut feeling and the things you want to believe and trust. Yet, my experiences showed me that if we feel safe we show our inner safety also to the outside world. Our experiences create our picture of a place and not the things we have heard about a certain part of it. Of course, certain pictures of neighborhoods might be exactly how people told you they would be, but I bet a lot of them are not if we find our basic trust. Uncertainty starts so often in our heads and then impacts our lives around us. Keeping that phrase in mind can lead us to wonderful experiences and shape our thinking of what a “safe” place looks like.
So as we spend time someplace else, we are confronted with so much, but hopefully, eventually find our way of truly seeing things. That's why we will never come all the way back to who we were before. New moments and experiences shape us. They are the real treasures that we carry with us every single day, like what it means for me to use Do-It-Yourself Safety.
drawing by NEONCURRY