Over the past five days, Natasha, Ashby, and I have traveled to: Antwerp, Paris, Brussels, and Bruges. I thought I would just choose one specific encounter with a local to write about, because I can honestly say that this one encounter has made a lasting impact on my life.
My friend Natasha is Indian and constantly gets approached by different ethnicities asking if she is “one of them”. In this particular instance, we were standing in line waiting to get a train ticket from Antwerp to Bruges and a man of Middle Eastern decent pulled Natasha aside and said to her: “Are you one of my kind”? Natasha, Ashby, and I were a little taken aback with the man, but Natasha politely told him she was from India and that was the lead into him revealing to us that he was an immigrant into Belgium from Afghanistan.
Hearing this as an American can be alarming to some, but I simply butted into the conversation and asked him: “Have you ever been back home?” He replied with: “Oh no, my country is destroyed. There is nothing to go back to.” For some reason, this response to my question hit me hard and I realized the reason why it did is because I’ve never heard an Afghanistan native’s point of view. At home, even the most liberal news is tented with America bias views on the Middle East…Talking to this man was the real, unedited, raw thing. We all four went into Starbucks together to grab a cup of coffee and speak to him more.
He told us that he is 19…Younger than me, and moved to Belgium when he was just 8 years old…right after September 11th, 2001. He ventured into Belgium alone without his parents or anyone he knew. The only way he survived was because he went to the Belgium government, told them his story, and they promised to take care of him.
I asked the casual question (at least I thought) of where his family is located. I never knew I would have gotten the heartbreaking response of: “I don’t know, I think they are dead”.
It turns out, the last time he had seen them was when he emigrated from Afghanistan in 2001. Never in my life have I been so touched in such little conversation. It took five minutes for my complete outlook on the United States foreign policy to be questioned. When asked about what the United States should do about the Middle East, his response was simply: “I don’t even know anymore, they’ve done too much, it’s gone too far”. I could not handle the overwhelming emotions I felt when I was talking to him, so I simply had to excuse because I was about to start crying.
Having two International Relations majors as friends on the trip leads to constant conversations about the United States involvement with the rest of the world and many talks discussing what is happening globally that very few individuals take the time to learn about. My friends on this voyage have taught me so much about what is really happening and they have opened up my mind into leaving my American bias behind in order to understand the other side. It’s really changed the way I view the world and for that, I am so grateful.
I was so interested in understanding the global community we live in today that I even bought a copy of The Economist! I am currently reading every single article just to attain more knowledge and in the hope of caring more about world issues.
After only being on Semester at Sea for less than one month, I can confidently say that if you stretch your limits and reach out to the global community around you, it can impact your life in ways you never thought possible.