August 11th, 2016
No soy una ciudadana del mundo.
I come from Chile, located at the end of the world. Surrounded by the immensity of the Pacific Ocean, the loneliness of the Atacama Desert and the impenetrability of the Andes cordillera, it could be considered an island.
I am not a citizen of the world.
I am fluent in Spanish, French and English. I am “cultured”; I know about history, art, music and poetry. I am “travelled”: I biked the Golden Gate Bridge, I went up the Eiffel Tour, I got the Padi diving course in Koh Samui, Surfed in Sydney and knew the leather tanneries in Fez. However, when I travel, I care about the amazing travel selfies that I post on instagram. I am not interested in knowing the locals, since they look different and their cultural traditions are ridiculous, obsolete, and nonsensical, compared to my “modern” and “liberal” way of life. I am not interested of Khmer Rouge and its impact in Cambodian citizens, and I certainly do not take advantage of my language skills to understand their beliefs, their stories, or their wounds.
Je ne suis pas une citoyenne du monde.
I do not care about global issues such as the energy crisis or the uncertainty of the refugees’ life. I have electricity and hot water in my house and recycling is too much effort. And when by accident I run into the international news happening in a faraway land, I quickly change the channel to the Turkish soap opera of the moment. After all, the facial expressions of Hurrem in Muhteşem Yüzyıl, are much more attractive than the death baby on the beach. My main concerns are the next season of Games of Thrones, the next Taylor Swift album or the 4 kilos that I desperately need to lose before my next trip to Costa Rica.
- Turkish soap opera: The Magnificent Century
I am not a citizen del mundo.
I do not have time to get informed of world news, search different sources of information and form my own opinions. I do not have time to do any volunteer work since my life is “crazy” and I have a lot on my plate; after all, you do not get to the 1013 level in Candy Crush Saga playing for only one month.
Je ne suis pas une citizen of the world.
I go to fancy restaurants, and the bill covers a month of an entire family living. I buy Louis Vuitton bags, while outside the store is a lady selling coconut water to support her family, and I bargain her down from two dollars to one. I love to buy cheap t-shirts, but I never ask myself how the price can be as low, and who is really paying for them.
Je ne suis pas una ciudadana of the world
My favourite and most valuable relation is with my smartphone, since it provides all that I need. Wakes me up in the morning, keeps me company during the day and even introduces me to people to date, since I long lost the capacity to engage with others in real life. When I do not have Internet my phone, I feel disconnected. I am numb.
I am not une citoyenne del mundo
I live unconsciously. I do not connect to others in any significant way. I am a consumer. I try to fill my internal void with external things, and wonder why I never feel as happy or complete as the girls in the women’s magazines. Even when on my Instagram I have hundreds of likes and I seem to have it all, I do not want to acknowledge that “thing”. That “thing” on my chest. That “thing” that I conveniently “confuse” with hunger so I eat/drink/smoke to make it go away. That “thing” that accompanies me everywhere I go. That “thing” that never leaves me, not even in my dreams. That “thing” that gives me nightmares every night. Nightmares that I do not realize that I have or even question why or since when I have them.
Since most of the time I travel alone, is not unusual that people approach me to ask where I come from and why I am traveling by myself; people with epicanthic fold, women wearing veils, with different skin and hair colour, in summary people that I had never the interest to approach. It is when they kindly ask me about my culture and they tell me about theirs, when I realize how narrow my worldview is. How come they are interested in me but I am not interested in them? When they talk to be on the bus or in the hostel lobby I realize how much I focus on my belly and not on what surrounds me. I realize how loyally I mirror Chile. I am also an island. Surrounded by invisible but robust frontiers, locking me in a comfortable bubble wrapping me to everything dissimilar.
Out of nowhere, these strangers show me their openness, their kindness, their generosity, and their happiness, and strangely, it feels good, and that “thing” on my chest feels somehow warm. It is then when I realize I lack those attributes. I cannot demonstrate affection as easily and as openhandedly as they do. I wish I could, but that “thing” on my chest, seems to be cold and empty…
It is only because I am multilingual that I am able to talk with people from China, Lebanon, Malaysia, India, Nigeria and Russia about the common battles we face as women over coffee in Edinburgh. Women who would be unlikely to meet in Chile since the percentage of immigrants from China is 2%, and even less for the other mentioned countries. Our natural barriers seem to act like an impenetrable membrane from the rest of the world, which gives the illusion that we are the norm and the others are the different ones. Our barriers keep us physically, mentally and emotionally disconnected from the rest of the world.
It is when we cry our hardships together and encourage one another that I discover and I am able to appreciate these former strangers as human beings. Humans with feelings, struggles and dreams, just like mine. And it is then when I feel something moving on my chest, and I notice an urge to help them to achieve their goals, and to do it together. Suddenly our conversations are not about the bachelor or what we consider attractive in a man, but about our adventures or misadventures, on how we misread cultural norms, and what we learnt from them. We compare traditions, customs and meaning and it is then when I start to appreciate their way of life, and recognize that maybe my way of life is not the best one, that it is certainly not entirely “right” or “good”. Theirs may be more “conservative” and traditional, but at the same time it is more respectful, cooperative and caring. Women are not displayed as sexual objects, people are not in an endless race to show who has more, and people think twice before judging someone else. Learning different perspectives and about different ways of life, allow me to think about new ways, new solutions and new possibilities. I am able to see the richness of our world and it opens my mental frontiers to consider that maybe if we share more, we can take what is good from each other´s cultures, build a new perspective together and share a new common path to improve our communities.
It is when they tell me about their life stories when I realize, that that news that I heard about war and the bombing of that country in a faraway land, becomes real. It is not something that happened to random people on TV. It is my friend’s life that was on the line. I had shivers and sorrow to hear her describe how her father decided to split the family members in several different cars to drive to the frontier in case one of them got bombed. The shivers and sorrow I was able to feel were only possible because we were able to talk the same language and were curious about each other experiences.
It is then that I realize that multilingual ability is more than technical proficiency. Multilingual ability serve to something more than to land a job in an international company, have high scores in a given test or ask for directions in a foreign country.
Multilingual ability can be more. It can be a door to empathise and develop significant relations with others different than us that we would have never talked to since we would not understand each other. It can allow us to connect with others emotionally and break our stereotypes. It allows us to constantly redefine the meaning of kind words according to the langage we speak. It can be a way to engage with others as human beings and find what bonds us instead of what takes us apart.
Multilingual ability awarded me the gift to have new friends with diverse customs and worldviews. Friends who showed me their generosity and their love; friend who taught me how to develop the attributes I lacked. Attributes that moved and warmed up that “thing” inside me. It was with their friendship that I started filling up the everlasting loneliness that was with me, no matter how far I went or how many things I bought.
Multilingual ability threatens my perfect “casual” picture on Instagram of me looking at the horizon in the Grand Canyon, and replaces it for a messy picture in my wallet with all my friends sharing hummus, dumplings, patacones, fish and chips, chalakaka and pisco sour on a long table.
It is when I acknowledge the stereotypes I have,
It is when I start to connect emotionally with others and with myself,
It is when I question the fears I hold,
It is when I recognize what impact my actions have in the world,
It is when their issues become mine, and mine become theirs,
It is when my friends´ homes become mines,
It is when I see the richness of what we could create collectively,
It is when I live my life with others,
It is when I share the warm of heart,
It is when we realize that we are all in this together,
That I start my journey of becoming a citizen of the world.
Maria Jose Ramirez C.
Maria Jose holds a PhD in Education from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, Master’s in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa, Canada, and degree in teaching from Ponrificia Universidad Catolice de Chile. She loves sports, nature and travel and for over 12 years has worked with athletes by motivating and inspiring them to not only win medals but achieve their own excellence not just at their sports, but also as human beings. Maria Jose was one of the 60 winners of the 2016 international essay contest of Many Languages, One World® (MLOW) that included students from 36 countries and 54 universities. Her essay, shared in this blog, was selected from a pool of over 3,600 entrants. Many Languages, One World is organized by ELS Educational Services, Inc., and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI)