One border that our writers have travelled is the one between expectations and reality. This is something that can be seen in any person’s travels. Everyone has ideas of what a place will be like that they are visiting, but nothing is ever quite what it seems. Sometimes this is a good thing, and other times it only leads to disappointment.
I too crossed this border in my travels to Italy. I had images in my head of the idyllic Italian countryside and some of the sites I had seen in movies such as Roman Holiday. While I did see these things during my trip there, I also saw many things I was not prepared for. I know that there are poor people and beggars everywhere, but I seemed to disregard that when I imagined my trip. This reality was somewhat jarring at first, but soon it became commonplace and I was almost desensitized to the sight of a poor woman holding out a paper cup to passersby. These poor people reminded me that the suffering are everywhere and that I do not have to go somewhere like India to help the poor. There are always people in need, and that made the world feel a bit smaller and more connected. Once I became used to this site I was ashamed of myself for not feeling the same tug of compassion and pity for these people. I became skeptical of their motives and the reality of their situations. This desensitizing isn’t something I ever expected would happen and I couldn’t help but wondering if it was good or bad.
Another reality-check I experienced was the language barrier. I thought that all Italians spoke at least a little English, but this was far from the truth. While most Italians knew a few words and phrases because of all of the tourists in their homeland, not many were fluent in English and this posed problems when trying to communicate. I could usually get by with a combination of broken Italian and vivid hand gestures, but there were times when I just couldn’t get my point across. This experience taught me the importance of learning a bit of the country’s native language before travelling there. My assumptions and expectations originated from the slightly arrogant American mentality that since we are a world superpower, everyone should know some of our language. Now I have a much greater respect for those who are bilingual and put forth the effort of learning another language. It is not an easy thing, but it is a sign of respect to the natives of the country you visit.
Russell crosses a border into a country filled with diversity, culture, and grief. She learns what it is like to be in a country that is recovering from a devastating war and finds that while the people are sad, life is moving right along. Things aren’t at the expected standstill and the people are not militantly divided. Serbs, Croats, and Bosniak are coexisting in one city – Sarajevo – seemingly without much conflict. People are as peaceful and respectful there as in any other city. As she wrote on page 144, “My own city, unique though it is, is largely untouched by other cultures and remains, therefore, sadly unenriched. In Sarajevo, however, Bosniak, Serb and Croat have blended together over the centuries. Islam, Judaism, Serbian Orthodoxy and Catholicism have all made room for each other.” Russell finds herself in an environment that has managed to begin moving forward without forgetting the devastation of the past. It seems that she has a great respect for Sarajevo and feels that her own city, Dublin, could learn a thing or two from it. I do not think that was what Russell expected to find, and thus that is the border she crossed: the one from expectation into reality. This is indeed an important barrier because it is one that divides many people and ideals and prohibits them from seeing things as they truly are.
Kapuscinski crosses a border of pure culture shock. It was the first time he travelled and couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to leave his country. He had a sort of spiritual experience crossing the border because he came from a communist occupied country and had never seen any other lands. He grew up being told to fear the west only to be thrust upon it, resulting in feeling very much like a fish out of water. After having such a new cultural experience, he went to India and was confronted with even more differences. There he hardly knew what anything was and had no plans from which to go off of. He did, however, pick up an English book and that paired with his English-Polish dictionary helped him to understand a bit more of his surroundings. That opened up his experience a little bit because what he understood, he remembered. He said that language presents a physical border or barrier. That was the most prominent border he had to cross. As he wrote on page 22, “I understood, in short, that the more words I knew, the richer, fuller, and more variegated would be the world that opened before me, and which I could capture.” If he failed to cross the language barrier, he wouldn’t have as full of an experience because the essence of the country would have passed right before his eyes. It was critical for him to cross this border so that he could fully experience India and broaden his horizons a bit.