Want to live in another country for 27 months where you don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language?
I could attribute many things to my biggest successes after being in this country for almost two years now. However, when it comes down to my clearest affirmation, it seems to be the simplest of them all. It was learning that having a kind and compassionate heart with good intentions gets you further in life than ever imagined.
When we take away the ability to verbally communicate with people on the level we are accustomed to in our native languages, the true test is how to convey who we are as a person. I believe that if you have a smile on your face and have warmth in your heart, people will pick up on that and be more open to getting to know you.
When you open yourself up to other people, amazing things can happen. You often just have to get over the fear of being the first person to say something. Some of the richest conversations I’ve had in the past year have been with a random passenger on a bus or a stranger sitting next to me on a park bench in the plaza.
Don’t be afraid to just say hi.
I laugh when my neighbors make fun of me for waving to every person that drives by my house on their motorcycle, but on the inside I know that this openness to strangers is what has helped me create such strong relationships with people in my community.
As many technical projects as I can accomplish here, the things people will remember most are the random daily conversations and how I made them feel. If we all took time to focus on these simple aspects of life; in taking the time to chat with a stranger or genuinely show interest in someone, we would not only strengthen ourselves, but also communities as a whole.
People watching is something I love to do.
I believe it is an essential part of who I am as a person and part of the reason why I studied Psychology in college. There is nothing that makes me happier than to see a child completely filled with joy as they learn something new, and nothing sadder than watching someone suffer after losing a loved one.
Fortunately and unfortunately, I have experienced many times in Paraguay the two ends of the spectrum of emotions. However, it is the highs and the lows of these emotions we experience that bind us together and strengthen relationships.
Watching people has led me to find and cherish what seem to be some universal truths between cultures. Okay, maybe not universal, but at least between the United States and Paraguay.
Some of these may seem goofy or irrelevant, but to me they were moments of clarity. Moments to realize that in this big world filled with so many people, we often look to find the differences between what separate us from other people.
However, when it comes down to it, people are people. We are all human.
So here is my random list of things that make me feel connected, content, and curious to look for more:
1. You put a group of young kids around a pick up truck and they are going to play in the truck bed. In fact, playing in the truck bed can provide hours and hours of entertainment.
2. Little kids love to jump in puddles. There is something so enticing about what will happen to that watery pool of mud that makes them want to jump in it and find out.
3. This is a pretty obvious one: people love the food of their culture and want to share it with you to let you know how amazing it is. I was originally going to take a photo every time I made chipa (a type of corn bread) in this country. However, when I had that idea, I did not realize the full extent of what that promise would entail. I have decided to put my photo taking on hold for the time being and just focus on the chipa eating.
4. People love to talk about the weather. If it’s hot, you have talk about how hot it is at least once every hour. I think this is a little more prevalent in Paraguay where the weather dictates so much of daily life.
5. Sometimes a hug can have the most calming effect for a person that is experiencing a hard time.
6. People love to cheers to good health and peace.
7. Farting is funny to little kids all around the world. It’s one of the first words my host family taught me in Guaraní.
8. Little kids in a pool or creek will eventually start a splashing war.
9. Taking pictures on cell phones to upload to Facebook is just as much a part of life here as it is in the United States. People want to have that social connection to others.
10. Setting off firecrackers can entertain kids for days. Once they tire of just throwing them, they resort to throwing them near animals, setting them off in the water, throwing them at their siblings, or sticking them in food.
A quote from one of my favorites:
“As social animals a key factor to our living a happy life is friendship, trust and openness. We are all the same as members of one human family. Trust is the basis of friendship and we’ll find this if, in addition to the knowledge we gain from ordinary education, we develop warm-heartedness. This gives rise to self-confidence and inner strength, which through trust and friendship leads to co-operation with others.”
~ Dalai Lama
*The contents of this article do not represent the positions, views or intents of the U.S. Government, or the United States Peace Corps.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Barney Moss/Flickr