LIVING NOT TRAVELING
I’ve been trying to write this post for a while now. While each iteration helped to solidify my thoughts, it’s only after a month of writing I was able to really put these thoughts on paper (or in pixels).
Years ago, I used to backpack and I loved it. However, recently as I got older (and hopefully wiser) I started searching for opportunities to actually live in a place.
So instead of constant shuttling between different cities at breakneck speeds, I decided that I’d be cool to actually settle down and stay in a place for a while.
The difference is that unlike when you spend a day or two in the city — when you live, you engage and give your one hundred percent. You learn the language, understand the culture, build a social circle, etc. It’s not easy but forces you to grow out of your comfort zone and learn more about yourself.
I have no problem opening myself up and diving into new cultures, and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past few years. First it was Argentina, then Mexico and just recently Brazil.
However interesting things started to happen as I became a local in many countries.
During my stay in Brazil, as a consequence of learning the culture and language, I started to appreciate my culture (Russian) and hometown (New York City) more and more.
I noted many similarities between Brazilians and Russians. Things such as strong emphasis on family values, defined male/female roles in relationships, etc. The longer I lived, and the more I assimilated, the more proud of my own culture I became.
Brazil was to be only the beginning, a year later in Colombia I finally understood how it all tied together.
IT’S NOT ALL PEACHES
Many people rave about the friendly locals, or how safe the city, or myriad of other factors that puts a new city about their former hometown.
Sometimes I question such statements because such people always paint a rosy picture with absolutely nothing negative to say (don’t trust anyone who has absolutely nothing negative about anything).
I love exploring foreign lands as much as the next guy, but I also think it’s important to realize where you come from and who you are and never let you current “traveling indefinitely” or “global citizen” label take precedence of your true nationality. If you lived 25 years in America and have been traveling “indefinitely” for about 2, 3 or 5 years, surely you’re still American, no matter how much “enlightened” you might have been by few years of traveling.
My stay in Colombia was mediocre. I settled into an overhyped city that, as an added bonus, had the biggest ego in whole country. I failed to make lasting connections and generally found the society rather inward looking and difficult to integrate to.
For instance most of the people I met have never left the country. Thus they viewed their country and especially their city as the most civilized and technologically advanced place in the world. Maybe as a result of foreigner fatigue, most locals viewed foreigners with indifference rarely caring where they are from or what their purpose in the country were.
And for someone who understands the culture, the history and even speaks fluent Spanish with Latin American accent, this indifference proved to be a hurdle difficult to overcome.
WHY AM I …
Thus I began doubting my efforts.
“Why am I living in some third world shit hole when my home and family is in the capital of the world (New York City)?”
“Why am I trying to understand their culture when they haven’t the slightest idea where my birth place is located on the map (Hint: it’s a big country in Europe)?”
“Why am I studying their language (and slang, accent) so thoroughly when as soon as I open my mouth they’ll know I’m a foreigner and will be discriminated against one way or another”
“Why am I chasing their women, when they’re the biggest gold-diggers I’ve ever encountered in Latin America?” (Medellin)
“Why am I spending money in their country when I know I’ll have to fight with a taxi driver over a bullshit “recargo” charge at the end of the night?” (Cali)
“Why am I feeding their ego by saying how beautiful the city is when it’s biggest cookie-cutter, concrete, soul-less jungle with the ego to go with it and no redeeming qualities I’ve ever been to?” (Medellin)
As more time passed, the more questions like the above forced me to contemplate my existence in this country and the more my appreciation of my own culture grew.
It was only on this recent trip back to New York that I finally began to appreciate all that the city has to offer.
I felt comfortable in New York in a way that I’ve never felt before. It’s truly a dynamic, cosmopolitan city where everyone has an opportunity to come in and prove themselves.
It’s a city that doesn’t discriminate. A city that doesn’t care what language you speak or what accent you have (although I do love my NY accent).
Unlike Colombia, you’ll never be called a gringo (which I consider slightly derogatory) here and even after a year you can start calling yourself a New Yorker, something that can rarely be done anywhere outside the US.
I’m not saying that I’m closing the door on future long term travel plans, but what I’m saying that my future long term travel plans will have specific goals in mind.
Those goals might be to learn a language, or maybe to open a business, or a similar purpose that will somehow help me achieve a goal.
I will view it a fixed-time aim (1, 3 or 6 months) instead of some hazily defined indefinite stint with no concrete aim in sight.
This is the end of aimless wondering in places that I after I leave I still scratch my head and question how I ended up wasting my time for so long.
This is the end of self-searching and the beginning of something more substantial.