I’ve always been someone who has found it difficult to put myself in someone else’s shoes.
To really understand their point of view when it’s different than mine wasn’t something I put effort into. My sister has always been someone that pushes me. In true sisterly spirit, we don’t hold back our opinions with each other. She once said to me,
“To a mouse that has only lived in a cage, the cage is his world.”
I thought she was crazy for the longest time, what does a mouse have to do with why you don’t agree with me?
It wasn’t until years later when I traveled to another country for the first time that I understood what she meant. At 22 years old, I got on an airplane headed to Iceland to travel internationally for the first time. This was a momentous moment for me as well as the crying 2-year-old next to me, who also happened to know exactly how I felt taking off.
Up to this point, I had only lived in Pennsylvania and traveled to see family in New York. When I first met my boyfriend’s Portuguese parents they asked me “what I was”. This was the first time I’ve ever been asked this so in a panicked voice I simply said American. They laughed because of course that’s not what they meant and I was so embarrassed. That’s just how enclosed I was in this American bubble; I didn’t even think to tell them about my Italian, Polish, Irish heritage. I was a mouse that only knew the American cage.
When we landed in Iceland it felt like winter by my standards although it was actually summer. The water was a bit weird from the sulfur but the most culturally shocking part was the language, it was like nothing I’ve ever heard or seen for that matter. Our Airbnb was in Tryggvagata, to this day have no idea how to pronounce that. When we stopped for coffee the barista began speaking to us in Icelandic until the puzzled look on our faces exposed our American heritage. The barista barley spoke English so we all played a fun game of charades to order. Looking back I’m still disappointed in myself, to think that everyone in this world had to speak English. Of course, they don’t have to!
Being a communication professional, I’ve always found engaging with people through talking to be my go to in getting to know people and my surroundings. I’m comfortable doing it. However, I couldn’t really use this skill in Iceland. My first instinct was to run away and never travel outside of my comfort zone again but when I opened the cage door and began to learn and understand, my whole experience changed.
The best advice I can give you is, don’t hesitate if you find a cheap flight, book it. Find people to go with or even go alone and experience something totally out of your comfort zone. I promise you won’t regret it. Open the cage door and experience the world.