Posted by Reilly Martinez
In the spirit of being a traveling millennial, this entire post was written on my phone. While technology has definitely shrunk the world, it has not stripped away breathtaking moments unique to living and journeying abroad. I’m currently living in Toulouse, France and working on semiconductor physics at a French lab.
I find myself mirroring the mystic expectations of Americans in Europe. There’s a vague, sometimes indescribable feeling towards traveling in a country whose language is foreign to my ears. I’ve browsed through international news in Dublin, have relied on locals to navigate the Barcelona metro, and have enjoyed an espresso by the yacht-filled ports of Monaco. This might sound overly lavish, yet these moments are few and far between; most of my worry and preoccupation goes into making sure I’m on the right bus going in the right direction at the right time.
I think it is obvious how much European culture is different than American culture (let alone Texan), but to experience it firsthand is eye-opening. So, one must experience it before casting judgement on cultural preferences. For instance, I now love black coffee, roundabouts, and unsliced bread.
Just like America, Europe has its own gripping problems. The EU identity crisis, actual immigration concerns, and an aging population come to mind. But the American people have an advantage to coming together: a collective mentality. Californians have much more in common with Midwesterners than the French do with the Polish. Yet listening to the news in France, it seems that the country is more polarized than ever. But I guess that’s a conversation I’m not really able to speak about.
Last weekend, I visited Nice, France, the site of a terror attack in which more than 84 people were killed. While I was safe and sound enjoying fireworks on a Roman-built bridge across the country, a man drove his truck through the Promenade d’Anglais, a road that passes luxury hotels and the world-famous beaches of Nice. When I arrived at the city two days later, the beaches were nearly empty. Most public places were closed, and security was ever-present. I don’t think I’ve seen so many newscasters or reporters in one place.
I remember seeing French men and women surrounding the memorials to the victims. There were pictures of victims, candles, flower arrangements of all colors, poems. The bear with the name Nicolas on it. Tricolors. People weeping, people praying. And in the middle of the street, bouquets placed in the center of hearts drawn in chalk.
I didn’t quite remember I was an American for awhile. I was privileged to see the memorials and witness how people from all over the world flooded to support the locals. In the age of the Internet, we often are desensitized to horrific events simply because they are reported almost instantaneously. Seeing things on the Internet will never be the same as seeing them in person.
In Nice, my roommates were an Israeli hiker and a Minnesotan traveler. I’ve met and conversed with people from Korea, Australia, South Africa, Spain, Canada, Brazil, Germany, and many other countries. None seemed different in their hopes or dreams. Not one seemed to be hostile to me because I’m an American or even dismissive. People from all over the world have welcomed me with open arms, and I believe we, as a united people, must not be afraid of those different from ourselves. We are all people with different religions and customs and languages and histories. By this fact, we are more alike than it may seem.