by Crystal Abrahim
I THINK YOU CAN ASK JUST ABOUT ANYBODY WHO KNEW ME GROWING UP that traveling and living abroad was something I constantly dreamed and talked about. Although London had my heart throughout high school, I outgrew my “Beatles” stage and gained more of a yearning to travel when I became excessively passionate about my studies. Being raised in a traditional Chaldean family, many smirked at the idea of even attempting to ask my parents to study abroad.
When you get married, you can go wherever you want.
That was my mom’s default response. I’m not married, but here I am writing this piece from my place in the Netherlands, which is where I will reside for the next four months.
This past month has been quite an adventure – a part of my young adult life I will always treasure. I was privileged enough to backpack seven countries in Western Europe with some of my closest friends. In a short span of time, we visited Dublin, London, Brussels, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Amsterdam, and we will finish the year studying at the University of Maastricht.
As someone who has a deep respect for different cultures and countries, I believe traveling, living, and/or studying abroad is a necessary thing to experience to truly understand the beauty of humanity. We often get so trapped in our daily routines that we forget to enjoy the greatness life has to offer. As a citizen of a country that has massive global influence, it is necessary to engage with and learn from others around the world. One of the most telling observations I’ve made in my travels thus far is the difference in lifestyles. In America, we have higher standards: bigger houses, nicer cars, more possessions, etc… And these all come with a hefty price tag and a large amount of time. Our time is constantly spent getting ready for work, driving to work, working, and repeating this pattern. We have been socialized since the time we were young to follow the standards of getting a good job and making a good living – the good ol’ American dream. We’re constantly looking forward to, saving for, and dreaming of tomorrow. Given our standard of life, our persistent work life has become a norm. While our ambitious attitudes and aspiring passions set us apart, I often wonder if it’s worth it? There is an outstanding imbalance between work and leisure – and after traveling I’ve realized this more and more.
Sitting on a train going back to Maastricht, I sat across from an older gentleman who lived there most of his life. After giving me some tips about the city, he asked me how I liked it so far. Maastricht is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever laid eyes on (it looks like a block out of Disneyland). There are shops, restaurants, churches, parks, bike rentals, and a river all within walking distance. It’s really a dream. I told him how I loved it, but I had to get used to everything closing early (everything closes at 6pm except for restaurants and pubs). The look on his face gave me a gut feeling that I perpetuated an American stereotype – something I was trying really hard to avoid (socializing with Europeans will give you a taste of their thoughts about Americans). “Early?” he asked astonished.
Well people here have personal lives if you haven’t noticed.
Feeling the pressure, I quickly changed the subject, but I’ve been reflecting on that statement ever since.
Before choosing the Netherlands as my permanent place of living for a semester, I did some major research. According to the 2014 United Nation’s Human Development Index, the Netherlands ranks number four in human development. This is measured by life expectancy, literacy, education, standard of living, and quality of life. Within minutes of landing in there, it’s not hard to see how it received such a high ranking. The pure, non-GMO, non-chemical cheese, butter and bread are enough to make me move here for a lifetime. The food, the up-kept landscape, the architecture, the history, the elegance, the people, and the culture are things I hope everyone in gets to experience. I can’t explain how refreshing it is to live in a city that has not been bombarded by corporations, tall skyscrapers, corporate office buildings, and gas-guzzling cars. Besides the bank, McDonald’s, and a few clothing stores like H&M, ma and pa shops thrive here and make up the city. Festivals and parties occupy the main city square most weekends, and the beautiful parks and shops are always a short walk or bike ride away. Having been raised in San Diego, another magical city, I can say that there is a splendor in living slower and simpler.
I don’t mean to completely dismiss or insult our country’s attention to work ethic – the key is balance. A balance between work, family, and the small (most meaningful) stuff. While visiting Rome, I attended one of Pope Francis’s general audiences and the topic couldn’t be more relevant to my thoughts. The subject of this talk was work and family life. Translated from Catholic News Services, the Pope proclaimed,
Work, in its thousand forms, beginning with housework, is about caring for the common good,’ providing for one's family and cooperating with God in creating goods and services that are useful to others.
He continued, “…when the family, the earth or labor are ‘hostage to the logic of profit,’ then everything is poisoned and the poorest families suffer most.”
Majoring in Sociology, reflecting on people and society has become a natural habit. I can’t imagine the things I will learn in the next few months, but I’m extremely grateful for having the privilege of being able to live out my dream. People often tell me, “Wow, you actually did it, you’re actually living out your dream,” or “How’d you get your parents to let you live abroad?” Truthfully, all I can say is that I am living out my vocation: being a student, an observer, and a Christian. I don’t know when or how my fascination to travel began, but as time goes on, I’m realizing that it has a lot more to do with destiny than with leisure. With Christ at the center of my life, I hope wherever you are spiritually, mentally, or physically, that you remember to appreciate the small stuff. The love and joy you gain from them is the true treasure of life.
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” -1 Corinthians 13:7