Everyone should get lost. At least, for a short season. I’m not talking about getting lost spiritually or losing your core beliefs. I am talking about getting literally lost. Being out of your element and in over your head.
There is something about being willing to surrender to a different culture and yielding to a different way of doing things. A sense of not always being in the know, the one on top. Every now and then, we need to be the one who needs to have things explained to them over and over again until we get it.
Recently, on a trip that my husband and I took to Budapest, we experienced just that. And it did us a lot of good.
For the first few days on our trip, we were indoors, it was rainy, and we were somewhat confined to a certain corner of the city. No real exploration was happening. But, on Sunday, as the sun finally emerged bright and clear, we started venturing around the city via public transportation.
As we were riding on the first of several buses to attend church, I was excited (probably too excited) when I saw a giant billboard of Sarah Jessica Parker hanging on the side of a building that I had seen the night before while riding on a tram. At this moment, the massive face became a familiar landmark for me, displayed in the midst of a myriad of beautiful old buildings. I felt a little guilty and so “American,” but then I realized that my excitement actually arose from seeing a familiar thing, something I knew. It was my schema. It was a reference point.
My next landmark, my first Hungarian one, was the green Liberty Bridge. It was located near the first place that we had stopped a few days earlier and had walked around. (It also had a Christmas market, an Aldi, and an ATM, so fun and food and access to more.) What we saw first became a familiar place. We knew how to find it and how to come and go from that location. We were slowly becoming more acquainted with the city and about to venture out more. We were ready, or so we thought.
Navigating a city requires several things: reading a map, knowing a language, having a destination in mind, and knowing how to get there. Oh, and yes, being flexible.
We walked around all over the place. We took trams, trains, metros, and buses. (Yes, those are all different things.) The sensation of feeling lost yet one with the city is both terrifying and exhilarating. We felt a little disoriented at first. But then, as we learned our way (baby steps, mind you), things started to click. We didn’t feel as lost. We learned how to successfully plot a few paths. For instance, Tram 47. It’s my favorite. I know where it goes and where it stops. Its rickety, clackety, clack sounds like the voice of a dear friend.
Not knowing the language felt like a hindrance. Picking up on cues became paramount. The moments of camaraderie with old ladies who had literally run to catch the bus and made it (the bus waits for no one) were delightful. They smiled and talked up a blue streak, and I just laughed and smiled. I dared not speak or I would betray that I was not one of them. The magical moment of connection would snap, the spell broken in an instant. It happened once and was heartbreaking. Smiles communicate, different languages don’t.
Successfully being in an unfamiliar place is a daunting task. That feeling of being overwhelmed when multiple new things are thrown at you at once. Yes, thrown at you. That’s what all the new things feel like when you are inundated with them. A punch in the face. A flood of new things. Even good things, no less, when hitting you concurrently, can hurt.
It can be overwhelming. For example, I was continually confronted with new words. I asked my daughter, who we had been following as a lifeline throughout our stay, unwittingly for the third time what a word meant, and she responded abruptly with, “I’ve already told you that!” “Yes, yes you have.”
As a teacher, this was an excellent reminder. Students need to hear and see things repeatedly, especially when so many new things are flying at them simultaneously from all directions. Repetition is part of teaching. It is how things stick and remain. It is how things become familiar.
What did I learn from all of this? Getting lost can be a great adventure! Learning new things can be uncomfortable. You don’t always have to be the one with all of the answers. Listening to others and being aware of your surroundings is important. Expanding your horizons can keep you from becoming myopic. Taking note of your surroundings keeps you observant. Enjoying other cultures enriches your perspectives. But, always remember to stay tethered to the Anchor.
By Stephanie Boss, CCS 5th Grade Teacher