Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
“Wissen Sie, wo die Stadtamhof Haltestelle ist?” (Do you know where the Stadamhof Station is?). The German man directed his question to me, but before I had the chance to respond, my sister interjected, “Oh no, that’s just my brother.” In that moment, I realized I had just been mistaken for a German local. My red chino pants and H&M tee-shirt must have really sold the part. The German man’s misjudgment made me feel chic and sophisticated as if his small mistake gave me a new level of superiority.
For the remainder of my family’s German expedition, I was determined to appear like a local. Whenever we were in public, I made sure that my aunt, who is fluent in German, did all the talking; I only opened my mouth if I could employ the little German I knew. If my painfully American parents uttered a word of English near me in public, I shot them a scornful glare.
To my dismay, my temporary lifestyle came to an end. The time came for me to resume my life as a typical American teenager. On the last day of our trip, I packed up my bags and boarded my flight in a state of constant pondering and reflection. I wondered why I had spent the entirety of my time in Germany attempting to appear like a local. Why was I trying to create an image for myself of someone I was not? I thought back to when I had seen an older American tourist couple boldly embracing their foreign oddity by snapping photos and riding Segways through the streets of Regensburg. Upon seeing them, I had giggled as the cobblestone streets caused them to bump up and down, but as I continued to watch them, I had noticed how happy they looked and recognized that I was lacking this happiness and freedom of expression. I realized that in Europe and in my life as a whole, I had spent the entirety of it avoiding being different – only it took a trip a few thousand miles across the world to realize that.
This newfound self-awareness prompted me to change my conforming and phlegmatic self. I discovered the importance of self-expression and individuality. Rendering my true self was something that I had never done before, an adjustment, but I was ready for this change. I quit crew, a sport for which my love was no longer present; I had only forced myself to continue with it to impress and please my friends and family. I also made little day-to-day changes that might sound silly to everyone around me, but that surely affected me, my esteem, and my happiness. I purchased skinny jeans and proudly wore them without worrying what others would think of them. I stopped wearing my contacts for weeks on end and went into school and into public with my glasses. I did all these things, but most importantly, I was not afraid to express myself. This experience made me realize that I had been putting all my effort into how the world saw this contrived picture of me, instead of focusing on the world around me. Now that I am unencumbered by the chains of conformity, I look forward to making my mark, riding my Segway, and living life to its fullest capacity.