Reflection: Such an important part of the human experience. I believe it is through the process of reflecting back on our lives, seeing what we have done, that works to help propel us forward and see what is coming ahead.
This is why near the end of each semester I ask my students to reflect back over the course of the previous months and provide me with the “Top Ten” things they have learned during that period. These “Top Ten” items can be a theory, a concept, a particular course discussion, interactions, literally anything they may have learned and found helpful, beneficial, important or just interesting…anything at all. Most students do not really have ten such items (can you remember even two things you learned in a particular course? Didn’t think so) yet most have a least a few legit experiences that academically wooed them in some fashion.
So now, as I near the end of my semester abroad in London, I am challenging myself with this same type of reflection. My “Top Five,” as it were. With journeys to Spain and Italy still ahead, I’m certain there will be more experiences to be reflected upon. Yet in the nearly 3 months I have been here I have learned a few things, from the humorous and the mundane to the more serious and personal.
5. I like to have ample water at the base of my loo. I know this sounds odd but everywhere I travel in Europe the toilets have about a cupful of water at the bottom of the john. I really cannot explain why, but I appreciate a good water barrier between my “contents” take off and landing. In the US we have a couple of buckets worth of water making for smooth, enjoyable, delightful and rather peaceful loo experiences. Ahhhh, the little things we take for granted. While taking a walking “loo” tour of London (it was my daughter’s boyfriends idea…I swear) I explained my loo preferences to our guide when she stated that one can tell a great deal about a culture by their toilets. Without going into detail, in America everything is bigger and more mellow, as the contents can buoyantly rest within the large and luxurious serene water currents. Hmmmmm….something to think about. Think that’s bad? You should of heard her take on German toilets.
4. No matter how non-judgmental and accepting we may think we are of other people and cultures, traveling reveals our prejudices and bias. I am coming to terms with the understanding that I have this self-perceived notion that I am a very accepting person, who does not stereotype or judge others customs and practices, to be highly untrue. It is as if traveling holds up a mirror that we must see our true reflection. I am as guilty of “bias confirmation” as anyone, meaning we tend to see life they way we prefer to see it, not how it really is. We pay attention to only those select experiences that confirm our prejudices. If my stereotype of Europeans is to be rude, my biased perception will only pick up on rude acts while filtering out acts of kindness -as these do not coincide with, nor confirm, my bias. Traveling helps us to see life, including our self, as it really is, not how we prefer to see it.
3. Britain is our parent while the United States is its rather immature adolescent child. What do I mean by this? Britain is so much more mature than we are, period. I suppose if you look back into history this makes sense. We were the teenage kid who rebelled and ran away from home. Yes, we struggled to gain independence and get our feet on the ground -and we are doing quite well for ourselves about now, but make no mistake: Britain remains our more mature and wiser parents. Brits can drink openly in the parks here and no one gets too drunk, acts belligerent and wants to fight outside. Most of their street police officers do not carry guns. I also think of Britain as remarkably more secular as they have come to find out what America is only beginning to find out: You do not need the fear of punishment nor the promise of reward to be kind, decent, and civil with each other. They are polite, respectful and appropriate –the way my grandmother used to be –well, not really, but you get the point. They have matured. They have figured things out. We are adolescents with zits on our face by comparison. One day we can only hope to be as grown up and grounded. One of my favorite comedians, Adam Carolla, frequently asks the question concerning the British, “Why are they so much better than us?” Maturity, Adam, maturity.
2. There is no doubt my calling in life is to be a college educator. I feel as though when I teach I am completely and totally myself. Now perhaps some of my students may disagree with me on this, and believe my calling should be a prison guard or something far worse, yet I just love what I do. Having now had the opportunity to really bond with these young people as they are thousands of miles from home, is an experience like no other. They are old enough to be treated like adults, yet young enough (most of them) that they are still trying to make sense of the world around them. Like a child touching a hot stove, they are experimenting with what they can and cannot do, finding their limits, their boundaries and themselves. They are open and accepting of new ideas- I love that! An old friend of mine, Craig, a Florida State graduate, once told me that the biggest thing he learned in college was how to drink correctly -and we was not joking- to learn that there is a time and place for everything, how much you can handle and so on. This is not to say everything is professorial flowers and fairy dust…not by a long shot. This has been one of the most difficult semesters I have ever taught and I am as ready for this semester to be over as any of my students. It is just the good so outweighs any bad, leading me to….
1. I do not know how to grow old. Well, I do know how to grow old year wise -I am doing a splendid job with that, thank you. I guess I mean more like acting old, or even older. I have always had this notion that as you age certain “things” must follow. Things like you must dress differently, as in wearing your pants somewhat higher over the belly. Or that you must hate the contemporary music that the kids like. You must be disgusted with new fads and youthful practices as you gain an overall more discriminating and mature palate in life for the finer things. You should be content with simply smoking your pipe (tobacco, of course) while reading the New Yorker in your living room chair on a Saturday Night. Nope. Does not work for me. My calling to teach college is due to the fact I really love being around young people. I have a lot of friends my age, who are great and I must confess it is quite nice to be able to use the full range of my vocabulary, but the exuberance and energy of youth is electrifying and cannot be compared. A student, Jessica, recently wrote me and said, “I learned this semester that a professor can be genuinely cool.” And the great part is I am just being me. I don’t care about cool. I believe all people are cool when they are completely themselves, no matter the personality or traits.
A couple of years ago another student, Patricia, who observed me at an end-of-class get together at Johnny’s Tacos interacting with students, asked, “So, tell me the truth. As you interact with these guys is that really you or are you just bro-ing it down?”
I had never heard the term “bro-ing it down” before but I knew exactly what she meant.
I was not “bro-ing it down.” That was me.
And as I soon head back for the States, I will continue to reflect on life and all that I learn from it. From loo’s to life’s calling to “bro-ing it down,” this thing called life can be such a kickass adventure.
Reflection. Just do it.