The whole point of life is to make connections whether synaptic, experiential or relational. Sometimes, all three happen at once. I look back at my travels abroad as clusters of these connections that continue to define who I am. The experiences I've had in Haiti, Japan, and Russia consist of a series of random dots. Every day I make sense of another section of the resulting picture.
One of my first memories abroad was riding though the capital of Haiti in the bed of a pickup truck. Sitting on top of our team’s luggage, I had a 360-degree view of the passage we made through the earthquake-stricken city. The smell of exhaust and garbage was unforgettable.
Despite the grief and unimaginable hardship I witnessed, it was the joy that stood out. The joy of crossing cultural and language barriers to make real connections. The joy of helping people in desperate need and the gratitude they expressed. These memories of compassion still guide me today and challenge me to really understand other people’s struggles.
In the same year, I spent the summer in Tokyo, Japan on a cultural exchange program funded by a scholarship from Kikkoman Corp. I remember an insightful teacher there stating something to the effect of, “memory purifies all.” He was right. The time I spent in Tokyo with my host family, fellow American exchange students, and the new Japanese friends I made feels like something out of a dream.
While it’s hard to boil down my experiences into one anecdotal story, the subway seems like a good place to start. On the first day of school in Tokyo my host mother guided me to the train station and helped me through the hour-long voyage that brought me to the heart of the city - Shibuya. She spoke very minimal English so I had to soak in every train transfer and journey through the station to learn how to get there.
On the trip back home, I was challenged to go the journey alone. I inevitably got turned around and had to ask strangers for help. After a near nervous-breakdown, I finally found my way. As my first time using public transit in a major city, Tokyo was indeed a challenge. It was one that I overcame by making simple connections with people.
I’m still digesting my most recent travel experience to Russia. It was another summer I spent abroad before starting college. This time I was with a language program funded by the State Department. I can’t remember exactly what inspired me to choose Russia, but I remember recognizing the dark intrigue of the country in myself.
Despite the political tensions between Russia and the U.S., I felt nothing but acceptance from the people who hosted me in Russia. Their kindness taught me more about the country than I could have ever read in a textbook. My motivation to learn the difficult language was fueled by the desire to get to know them on a deeper level.
I consider the keepsakes I brought home from each of these trips to be my most prized possessions. They represent the abundance of connections I made and fuel a desire for more. They remind me both of how insignificant I am and how significant I can truly be through the eyes of other people.
I used to loathe household chores. The thought of my parents telling me to do the dishes or take out the trash would cause me to feel instantly overwhelmed. Despite my mom’s instructions, my room as a kid went without being vacuumed for years and my closet was an avalanche waiting to happen.
My outlook on cleaning today is a different story because of two factors. The first is my job as a bartender downtown. Cleaning up after other people all day and night makes it just a littler easier to pick up after myself. The other factor is a recent move that is catapulting my buying habits into domestic realms.
Just as with any new habit, whether positive or negative, there is a need for money. It may be an unplanned purchase that results in healthy behaviors like a new water bottle, or it can be a chronic purchase that is influenced by an addiction like smoking. Whatever habit it may, none are immune to change, especially the habits that develop at early-adulthood.
I remember vividly the first purchase that kickstarted my infatuation with shopping for clothes. It was with my sister at the mall in seventh grade. I was every advertiser’s dream; a young consumer with disposable money and the potential to engrain branding deeply within my development. My love for clothes is stronger than ever, but I have a growing amount of other responsibilities that balance out my checkbook in a more adult direction.
Instead of only worrying about the fun things in life, I have new things to budget for. To keep my positive habits moving in the right direction I need the necessary tools. Each new product I use and brand I explore represents a similar opportunity for corporations like my first clothes shopping experience. Except this time, efficiency and price rule over everything else.
Understanding how development influences purchasing habits could have a profound impact on the way people buy things. Adulthood doesn’t have to be boring. With the help of brands who understand the demographics they are appealing to, cleaning could become every young adult’s next passion.