So you’re sitting in a busy coffee shop on a Sunday afternoon, chatting with a friend who is just across the table from you. Although there are at least 20 other people in this small space all having their own conversations, it is no problem for you to tune out the other conversations around you and engage in your own. Think of all the words, sayings, inflections, laughs, exclamations, et cetera that are happening in this little shop, and yet your brain has no problem focusing on only the words involved in your conversation. When broken down like this, it may seem like some sort of feat that we all do this everyday when really it is like a second nature now. That all changes when you’re tossed into an entirely new culture and language, however…
I remember my first few moments in Prague: it was like all of my senses were heightened and sharpened. I could hear everything, smell everything, and see everything so clearly—talk about overwhelming ( in the best way! ). I especially remember my ears being entirely alert because of the new language surrounding me. New sounds, new words, new accents—and although I couldn’t understand any of it yet, I was entirely intrigued and loved listening. Listening: something I came back from Europe much better at.
Of course it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, always. It’s especially important, however, when you’re in a foreign place. Since you may not be able to understand the language, it’s crucial that you are constantly scanning your surroundings and making sure your safety isn’t in jeopardy. That’s how I first started listening on my study abroad—for my safety. I felt like I had super sonic hearing, but since I didn’t understand a bit of Czech, yet, I would watch people and how they were talking—body language and inflection are pretty universal. I would observe how people interacted with each other, how they dressed, how they stood, how they talked on the phone, how loud or quiet they were, how they read the paper or scrolled through their phones. Although it may sound a little creepy of me, I found so much beauty in the “ordinary” when I took the time to stop and observe people—to listen to them even if they weren’t talking to me or talking at all.
This awareness followed me wherever I went and helped me to appreciate my surroundings more. Wherever I traveled to, I found little pockets of time throughout the day to write—to sit by the water, preferably, and listen to my surroundings. This listening time was crucial in helping me to slow down and soak in the moment. When traveling to new places, it is especially difficult sometimes to take the time to slow down—but I promise, if you just sit and listen to your surroundings you will find yourself remembering much better when you go looking for those memories. Take a break from homework, take a breath from meeting so many new faces and take a listen to the beautiful, new world around you that has something very important to say.