A Work in Progress: Part 1

Decompression - You are Here

Surprise, surprise: I kind of suck at some things (example: making a website. Progress has come to a halt, to say the least). So I thought, as an experiment: why don’t I make a list of some things I hope to improve while abroad, through reinforcement both positive (conscious effort) and negative (unconscious discomfort)? Throughout writing this, I’ve realized that many of the things I wish to work on fit into one of the eight intelligences, and since I love lists and categories, I’ve matched the correlating intelligence in each heading.

I hope that this inspires you to think about how you could work to improve your various intelligences, and how extended travel abroad might facilitate a new way of thinking that allows you to push past mental barriers to self-growth.

  1. Broken Internal Compass – Spatial 
    In a way, I always know exactly where I’m going – it’s precisely 180˚ in the opposite direction of wherever I’m walking. At this point, my lack of directional skills is almost a caricature-like flaw, and I’ve been the butt of many a joke regarding my need to “reset” my mental GPS. My brother had always been the guide, reading the map like a sage and directing my parents on long car rides. Me? I was talk radio.
    Maybe that’s why my spatial skills haven’t been developed. Who knows? I once was on a bus for ten minutes before I realized I might be going in the wrong direction or on the wrong route. “Is this the 51? Or the 18? I’m supposed to be on the 1 heading down to Oakland, but these houses don’t look familiar.” I’m not entirely sure how this happened (I’m fairly certain I was sober), but I was in fact on the correct bus, going in the correct direction, and I still got confused. Regardless, I somehow I always end up where I need to be, either with the help of maps or spatially-gifted friends like Chris, who didn’t speak a word of Spanish but somehow navigated us all around Madrid by getting me to ask people and translating the directions to him.
    My directional sense is still off when I head back to my hometown, but it’s improved tremendously since moving to Berkeley. Not only do the mountains (and the Campanile) provide certain landmarks, but I also have extensively biked and walked around the city and have learned the ins and outs of the roads on foot.
    This can’t be the case when abroad. While traveling, with ever-changing locations and no spatial orientation or “You are Here” sticker posted on conveniently located maps, I will be forced to rapidly develop a sense of where I am and where I need to be, particularly without relying on prior knowledge. I’m hoping that this skill kicks in soon, as it’ll probably save me a lot of time and money in the long run.
    …But on the other hand, isn’t the whole point of this trip that I have no real destination? I will, and maybe should, get lost – that’s how I learned my way around Berkeley, and maybe that’s how I’ll learn my way around Prague or Casablanca or Kathmandu. Having a schedule and a set route is sometimes boring, and getting off the beaten track and exploring new lands are two relatively deeply embedded concepts in my trip. So while I do want to improve my navigational skills by the time I return to the States, it might not be the problem needing the most attention when abroad (as long as I don’t wander into the wrong neighborhoods or find myself stranded in the middle of the night).
  2. Slow Language Retention – Linguistic
    I have to give myself a bit of credit here – I can pick up scripts extremely quickly (and have excellent penmanship), but for some reason have faced a mental block in regards to language learning. The other elements that constitute someone with high linguistic intelligence seem like they apply to me – I can synthesize information quickly, debate, write, and tell stories (like none other). But I’m awful with dates, names, and other rote memorization categories, and as I mentioned, I forgot foreign vocabularies very quickly if I don’t use them on a regular basis.
    So obviously language learning is something I need to work on, particularly if I’m going to be moving between thirty different countries. While it’s not realistic to assume that I’ll become even partially conversational in any – with the exception of Telugu, and even that’s a hesitant exception – it’s still a goal that’s important for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of any culture.
  3. Weak Upper Body Strength – Bodily-Kinesthetic
    The intelligence in this category isn’t entirely accurately matched to the category, since “bodily-kinesthetic” intelligence regards the naturalness of reflexes, manual dexterity, and consciousness of one’s physical presence. In this regard, I’ve always been particularly adept – I’ve played sports my entire life (soccer, basketball, tennis, running, even fencing for a split second there) and have always had a keen sense of figuring out how things worked. That somehow translated to social science degrees in understanding political systems and societies, in which my mathematical mind continually reassesses everything in a physical but logical – almost biological – sense. I can also easily open jars and balance on one foot for a half hour, so I guess my fulcrum is properly calibrated.
    But for however long I’ve trained my body, I can’t overcome the fact that I’m actually quite small. I am wiry, and can manipulate my own body well, plus I’m stronger than most people of my size. But I can’t go the distance – I can’t imagine how frustrating it’s going to be when I’m stuck walking for hours with a 60L pack filled to the brim. This might be an opportunity for me to practice frugality, but instead I’m going to take this as a challenge to start lifting weights this summer and prepare myself physically for the duress my body is about to undergo. By the time I come back, I’ll either look like a small Indian She-Hulk, or I’ll have broken my spine and will be shipped in two pieces.
  4. Inability to Play Musical Instruments – Musical
    I once heard if you can dance, you can play an instrument. Since then, I’ve realized that this is an utter lie, and it’s unfortunate that I can’t remember who told me that so I could return to them and warn them against spreading such falsehoods.
    As I mentioned earlier, I’m not often around silence – either I’m talking with or to someone, I’m in lecture, or I’m listening to music. Ironically, I can’t sing, and my hands are too small to play the guitar or piano, the two instruments I attempted (but ultimately failed) to learn. I have shown reasonable promise at drums, which I presume makes the earlier correlation between dance and music somewhat more plausible. What I envision for my trip – and yes, this might be a bit idealistic, and probably not at all realistic – is a local drum circle on some cozy beach that meets every full moon and takes me on an adventure through the pulsating night. From what I’ve heard, this is Moontribe, but considering I won’t live in the States, I have to find the equivalent hippie commune on my own. Of course, there are always the gypsies, from whence I sprung…
    So at some point on this trip, I want to learn how to play an instrument. If I could learn a lesser-known regional instrument, that would of course be awesome, but not very useful unless I brought it back and generated interest in this super hip “new” sound. Alas, I am unlikely to encounter the didgeridoo, though anyone who knows me know that this is the true instrument of my heart.
  5. The Human Computer – Naturalistic
    I look forward to being in my apartment. I enjoy laying in bed, computer in my lap, books scattered about, graham crackers on hand… Some prefer beaches; I prefer well-furnished apartments. I presume if my laptop had an infinite battery, I would probably spend more time outside, but my priorities are such that my laptop and I have fused into one – it’s gotten to the point where I’m physically depressed that my computer is perpetually close to “death.” It’s like not traveling because you have a dog (though this reminds me: when I “settle down” somewhere for at least two years, I’d like to get a dog. More reliable than a boyfriend and always excited to see me).
    So somehow I have become a robot, and being in the elements, at least in Berkeley, is a rare occasion. This past weekend, when it was upwards of 75˚(F – must switch over to C!), I did actually spend a lot of time out, lounging on the grass, hiking up to the Big C, soaking up some Vitamin C in my backyard. And this made me quite happy! But unfortunately, three days later it began pouring again, which explains why I don’t go out much. (ETA: I just spent the entire day outside, and it was nice again. Maybe I am becoming a human…)
    Luckily, I’m going to have few-to-no responsibilities on this voyage, the weather will be nicer (or at least more predictable), and I’ll constantly be introduced to new sights and smells and sounds, so the chances are that I’ll be on the computer maybe a third to even a fourth of the time I am now. This is my hope. I am a human, after all, so I must reconnect with my roots – even if that just means sitting under a tree and reading a book.
  6. Crippling Fear of Being Alone – Intrapersonal
    This is probably the primary source of my anxieties, as you read here. It needs no more explanation – I’m like a hummingbird that runs on the nectar that is human interaction. Traveling alone, particularly as a woman, is one of my biggest fears, but I firmly believe in doing (some) things that scare you (within reason). So I guess it’s not such a firm belief, since there are so many caveats.. but anyway, traveling alone is probably one of the most valuable experiences I will ever have, so I see it as a necessary threshold to pass before actualizing my true potential.
  7. Acceptance of “The Way Things Are” – Interpersonal
    This is another one that I hadn’t quite anticipated. I realized this yesterday when talking to a friend about post-graduation life. Berkeley is – make no mistake – a liberal oasis within a liberal region within a generally liberal state, part of what is arguably one of the most liberal nations (and in this last sense, “liberal” means both socially and economically). But this isn’t true of the rest of the world, and assuming that cultures should converge on what believe to be right – particularly, equitable treatment of women, openness of sexualities and contrasting perspectives, and compassionate treatment of those in lower socio-economic statuses – is a privileged, almost condescending, Western notion.
    Obviously, this brings up important ideological problems: do I resist patriarchal systems of control, or do I try to blend into the host country? Do I put up with racist comments, or do I make a political statement? Do I dare to speak my mind, or do I sit back and observe instead? Acceptance of cultural differences hadn’t seemed something I needed to improve on, but on further reflection, it’s precisely the dificulty with which people address, and overcome, culture shock that represents the basic struggle that “accepting differences” poses for travelers. As is advised by every professor in Berkeley, travel is one of the most critical tools for becoming a well-rounded, balanced, and academically sensitive person.
  8. Chatterbox Syndrome – Linguistic / Logical-Mathematical / Interpersonal
    Logical-mathematical didn’t fit into one of the other categories, but the coupling of these three intelligences provides a multi-variate analysis of my need to reduce my talking. Non-scientifically speaking, I need to learn to shut up. I want to know about the cultural norms, the impressions I make, and even the level to which my new friends will understand my rapid-fire and often abstract ramblings. Would a random Spaniard understand this entire post, let alone the nonstop stream of dialogue that springs from my mouth? And would that make me seem like a naive tourist, a narcissistic Westerner, or a common trollop?
    Learning how to control my chatter is one of my most difficult projects – just look at this post; I intended to write 1,000 characters and I more than doubled it – but hopefully with the lack of go-to listeners and the language barrier, I will naturally evolve into a quieter, calmer individual.