The world is full of billions of people living in hundreds of countries. Within each country, different geographic regions have their own cultures, unique from one another immensely. This gives way to thousands of ways of life that stretch across our globe. But when the world is so diverse, how do we find similarities? How do we live together on this one planet and try to build a greater future? After arriving home from the airport, I was quickly turned around the next morning and put back on a flight headed for a week of family vacation in Arizona. It was actually the pre-flight safety video that opened my eyes to what I had learned in two weeks prior. The video ends with the Delta CEO stating, “No matter where we’re from, we’re more alike than we are different.” I find a lot of truth in this statement. Plus 3 was my first experience abroad so who knows, maybe I’m not qualified to make a judgement on the Earth as a whole. What I saw though, leads itself to more similarities than differences.
We were put in a foreign country, knowing no one but who we came with, and were given two weeks to make the most of it. I think we did just that. I know everyone has their own individual memories that they brought back to America with them. I know the German students have their own memories that they will keep of us. We became close fast and friends quickly because we could relate to them. They do what we do – go to class, hang out with friends, play sports, watch TV. They are growing up just like we are, slowly finding where they fit in in the grand scheme of life. I noticed this at all ages. When we went for traditional Bavarian breakfast, I saw a young boy playing with toy construction equipment just like I did at that age. Your imagination runs ramped with all the things that can be built by a dump truck the size of a baseball. It’s a memory I have that I’m sure this kid will too, along with many people all over the world.
I learned that we’re more alike from people not even native to Germany. We saw so many tourists from all around the world, there to see the same sights we were. On our free day in Salzburg we interacted with a group of Asian tourists and even got a picture with them. We didn’t speak the same language and had trouble communicating, but we were all just happy. We were happy to experience a new part of the world and see that what we thought was so different, truly isn’t that different after all.
There is one overlying characteristic that I know can be found everywhere: emotion. We go through life day by day, soaring through the highs and trudging through the lows. I noticed this in everyone we interacted with. I saw happiness in moments when one of the German students got their official acceptance into Indiana University for the upcoming fall semester. I remember getting my Pitt acceptance letter and being overcome with joy. When going up the cable car at Oberammergau I learned a fear of heights is universal. It’s one so common and certainly known by Alex who also had trouble with the cable car. At Dachau, there was a solemn silence accompanied by reverence and respect felt by everyone for the history that unfolded there. That place holds a dark history, unimaginable to many. And I saw stress and panic all around the room in the moments leading up to final presentations. A recent article by Psycom states that a fear of public speaking affects up to 75% of the people worldwide.
Looking back at my first experience abroad, I am incredibly grateful. Plus 3 is truly a unique program where I got to experience things and meet people I could not have done in any other setting. I had slight hesitation when applying for the program; I didn’t know how being on an entirely knew continent would be. I was confronted with the fear that it would be different. I was afraid I wouldn’t relate to people or that I’d make a fool of myself by missing out on a major respectful custom. My advice to anyone hesitant to study abroad is to go for it. See the world. Don’t be afraid. Jump in head first. You’ll meet so many great people. Sure, things will be different and you’ll be faced with a few cultural challenges, but always remember, “No matter where we’re from, we’re more alike than we are different.”