After a year of volunteering at CIEE, something has changed within me, I am certain. It started subtly and then it spread out as a ripple would, across the water.
My first contact with a CIEE student, they asked me after introducing myself about the reason that motivated my joining this organization, and my answer was simple: Human Contact. I don't think that I had ever really given myself the opportunity to explore the necessities to master communication and attention to relationships with others. Majoring in health sciences, I knew, of course, that sooner or later I will have to deal with patients, colleagues and whatsoever and I did, but this was completely different. This was communicating with another part of the world through these beautiful humans. And while doing that we break down preconceived ideas on how to do something as basic as communicating. So the first thought we usually have about communication with other nationalities is that it is a mean to look at other cultures. And while that might be true, I realized that it is mainly a tool that allows us to take a look at ourselves as well, and I have learned surprisingly a lot about myself, my nationality, and my personal identity through my attempts of understanding others.
Now one of the challenges of understanding one another is perception, and perception is tricky because we tend to look at an individual through a prism that puts them in a category they don't necessarily belong to, which is why dialogue and breaking down stereotypes are important so as to find out what the underlying values are. Equally important are the things that bring us all together, -and as much as everyone talks about the things that separate us, although I think both should be celebrated,- I hold a dear spot in my heart dedicated to finding these little universal moments, small things that we all relate to. And focusing on these small things helped me become a better version of myself. I got to meet people, who now are my friends and family, that made me realize that as much as we are ourselves, we are often other people too, that our thoughts aren't just ours, our ideas fragments of opinions we've been exposed to. "I feel, therefore I am" is a reality, and we've all thought at least once in a lifetime that we were the main characters in life: that statement being both true and false. It is false because if we all think that, then we're not, for the sole reason that we've all had the same thought, however, it is also true because our life is our own and we experience it in a unique way which makes us main characters in our life, only not 'Life'. And being aware of all these differences and similarities, being curious and genuinely trying to understand and befriend one another is the key to navigating across borders. The original meaning of tolerance denotes the action of bearing or enduring hardship1 and therefore enduring each other without dialogue, and nobody should need to be 'tolerated' not even approved, however, we all need to empathetically allow ourselves and each other to be and exist the way we are, without judging. And that is a valuable life lesson that I'll always cherish.