Fifty Shades of Grey

With today being Chinese New Year’s (Happy New Year to those celebrating), I was reminded of when I was living in Toulouse and attended the Chinese exchange students’ New Year’s party. I met a German friend of mine at this party and at one point, when there was mostly Cantonese and/or Mandarin being spoken in the room, we diverged into our own conversation in English. We must have talked for several hours but there were some particularly resonating segments.

I firstly remember being in awe of all his stories and exciting experiences: training to be a pilot, being a part of a choir, joining a disaster relief team…the list went on and on. Anything and everything he had an interest in, he had to try them. These attempts often led him outside of his home city and away from his friends but the notion had grown to be quite habitual to him at this point. It was a consistency I witnessed in many of the exchange students: the desensitisation to moving place to place alone and opening up to new experiences.

My friend, albeit having an impressive background, expressed his strong desire to do more. He explained that some of his best friends were doing far more impressive things. As Jim Rohn says “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”; the more you’re around people with such a drive, it becomes a normalcy.

The conversation had forced me to re-evaluate my views and who I was surrounding myself with and many more conversations to follow did the same. Conversations with other exchange students, with strangers from various travels and even with myself, when I was lost in thought on long train and plane rides. Spending more time around different types of people showed me there are many ways to live and to be, so many things to do and to see and of course, many interesting people yet to meet and learn about. What could be completely typical to me could be completely bizarre to someone else and so the only normalcy was that the world wasn’t so black and white; there were shades of grey and I had to think about where I fit into all of this.

That’s the great thing about traveling. It’s when you’re put in a completely new environment and you learn what about you remains the same and what about you can change given the circumstances – for better or for worse – and for either, there is potential for growth.

“Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that’s just fabulous.” – Carrie Bradshaw



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