While eating churros in Barcelona next to the infamous Sagrada Familia, I was yanked back to reality for yet another time that day. An Emerson student-created popular slogan adorned the shirt of a boy walking in.
"Boston Strong," created by upperclassmen after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, was just one of the many connections between my life and this surreal adventure I had thought I was on. It turns out, surreal was far from the truth.
My entire life I've stood firm on my belief in a large world. Currently, there's over 7 billion people living on the Earth's surface. Amongst those billions, are thousands of cultures, languages, religions, etc. There's rainforests, deserts, tundras, mountains, oceans, lakes, beaches, and even volcanoes to explore. I could spend my entire life on countless trips to the ends of the Earth, seeing every nook and cranny I stumble upon, and still not have captured it all. Literally, we live in a very large world.
Barcelona, besides being a beautiful, cultural city, taught me many, many things. Arguably, the most important lesson was the realization of a danger in believing this large world is anything more than literal. By standing firm on such a belief, we fall prey to fantasizing these far off places and people until they reach a beyond human status.
Throughout my three day trip, I saw two Connecticut-related shirts and three Boston-related shirts. Imagine wandering the Picasso Museum in a dream-like state of awe and wonder, when suddenly a Connecticut College shirt abruptly wakes you. Or walking from the metro and spying a Boston University shirt out of the corner of your eye and momentarily forgetting whether you're in Spain or just leaving a Boston T stop.
And don't even get me started about the Burger King I saw as I stepped above ground for my first view of the hub of Barcelona.
I'm really not that far from home.
There are 7 billion people in the world. There are thousands of cultures, languages, and religions. That is literally a lot. Theoretically, a lot. But experimentally, is it really? These 7 billion people are just people. They have lives, families, struggles, dreams, loves, hates, and emotions. Maybe they speak Spanish, or use boats instead of cars, or dress funny, or even pray to a different God. But they're still humans. To think there's anything extraordinary or magical about these foreign cities, is doing a disservice to their people. It's dehumanizing them.
Currently, the world is having an issue. We've had it for centuries. We lack the ability to connect from one culture to another. To understand each other's beliefs. To respect each other's humanity. Because, if we're able to romanticize someone's everyday life into a mystical fantasy we long to experience, why can't we demonize someone's everyday life into a horrifying nightmare we long to eliminate?
They say traveling builds tolerance and understanding for other cultures. But, not only have I seen the opposite, I've unfortunately been the opposite myself. Traveling only builds tolerance and understanding for other cultures when done right. Those who fly thousands of miles away, bounce from tourist site to tourist site wide-eyed and giddy, snapping selfies everywhere they can, they don't build their tolerance and understanding. Sure, they're enjoying the culture, but as outsiders. They've created these people and their lives into things of entertainment, something they feel honored to awe over.
Eating churros in Barcelona next to the Sagrada Familia, and seeing a Boston Strong t-shirt, made me realize just what a tourist I was being. Sure the churro was good, (I highly recommend getting one when in Spain) but what a trap I had fallen into. The Sagrada Familia has been under construction for about 80 years, and there's no end date in sight. The actual look of it is ugly. It sort of looks like someone started building a giant sand castle, and then decided to switch to rock. And then mud. The only attraction is the construction itself. It's just a giant tourist trap, complete with carnival venders around the grounds and a gift shop. But there I was, in complete awe of it. It wasn't until I spent hours wandering the streets of Barcelona that I actually felt any connection to the city.
This trip to Spain, and my entire semester in Europe, is definitely an adventure, but it's far from surreal. This is real. These are real people living real lives. I'm not there to gawk over our differences and marvel over their traditions. Mine are just as weird as theirs. I'm here to learn and appreciate who they are as human beings. Traveling isn't a magical experience. I'm simply extending my reality.
So although the world may be literally large, to believe it is dangerous. Experimentally, and mentally, the world is quite small, and that's what we should believe. We're all just trying to live our lives the way we believe they should be lived. No matter how wild those beliefs are, they are not to be gawked at. They are real and human.
Muy pequeño el mundo es. It's a small world after all.