Just a week after my high school graduation, I took a student trip to Paris and Barcelona. While Paris wasn't necessarily my cup of tea, I absolutely fell in love with the city of Barcelona. From the cuisine to the landmarks, everything in Barcelona seemed so surreal and I couldn't quite grasp the fact that I was in a whole different country. Despite loving everything different about the city, there were also times that I felt extremely uncomfortable with the way things worked there.
I was so used to the intricacies of daily life in the United States that I completely forgot there were other places in the world that were so unlike my own. Just using the restrooms in Barcelona threw me off! You had to feed the door a 20 cent euro coin for it to open and upon opening, the door would then proceed to print out a coupon for your next purchase of milk. Strange.
My friends and I decided on a restaurant that sounded like it'd be good when we read what their menu was like. It was the standard burgers, fries, and chicken sandwiches. So we were all shocked when our fries came out drenched in oil and mixed with pieces of scrambled egg. The waiter took one look at our faces and laughed, as he knew we definitely weren't from around there.
These experiences are so little, and they seem like they have hardly any impact at all. They do though. I've been in a country where a small bottle of water is five dollars, but health insurance is free. A country where the beach is lined with smooth rocks instead of the seashells I'm used to, and I can drink all the alcohol I want without getting carded. Having traveled to a country like Barcelona has not only challenged me to think about what I consider to be "normal," but to be interested in the things that I think aren't normal.
We live in a society that is split down the middle about whether or not it wants to let in more cultures, more people with more backgrounds than we could have ever imagined. We see xenophobia in every corner of our communities and hear talk about walls being erected to keep people out, and bans being passed to keep people away. Once you've seen other cultures and learned the beauty of what it is to be different, you know that no wall can keep that beauty out.
Visiting Barcelona has made me realize just how small I am in this very large world. This is a good thing. I know now that my way of living is not the definition of what it is to live. I know people on the other side of the world they like their fries with tons of olive oil. I know that the culture of a country so far away from me is just as beautiful as my own and deserves to be embraced.