Culture / Travel

The first day back


I’m going to blog about my Marshall Memorial Experience writ large… one day, one month and one year after returning home.Of course, I’m sure I’ll have burbles of thoughts and insights in between, but here’s where I’ll take a holistic view of its impact on me (and with any luck, the world).


Not driving for a month made me loath to commute to work by car so I dusted off the bike and took the long way to work. Usually a four mile straight shot along the Detroit River, today I meandered through Mexicantown (my neighborhood) and Corktown (the one next to my neighborhood) before hitting the Riverwalk that skirts downtown on one side, the river and Canada on the other.


It felt good, pedaling along and seeing Detroit looking pretty. Gardens are in full force, the streets seemed relatively free of broken glass (usually a problem on my bike commutes) and so many friendly people wishing me a good morning.

I loved my fellowship experience. Loved. It. I wish it could have kept going because I am a culture/knowledge sponge that knows no limits. I learned so much about people, places and myself. I also learned that what we think we know about a place or culture has to be experienced to truly be transmitted. Books, videos, news… they only go so far. Tacit knowledge acquired by being in a place is so vital to “getting” it. I wish there was an app for that, but alas, I think I’m going to have to keep traveling to get my fix.


In the Frankfurt airport, there was a great bookshop that featured titles from around Europe that had been translated into English. I went a bit wild and bought five novels and a nonfiction book. That last one, called “Through the Language Glass,” is extremely sharp and hits on one major takeaway for me of this trip: our language defines our perceptions of the world. Those of you with fluency in many languages undoubtedly understand this. And my paltry knowledge of a smattering of Romance languages bears this out, as well. How we describe our experiences shapes our world.

Another takeaway is something that I learned about in college, but had forgotten about and then was reminded of by Filip at GMF, about the narcissism of small differences (der Narzißmus der kleinen Differenzen), a Freudian term that describes ‘the phenomenon that it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other’ – ‘such sensitiveness […] to just these details of differentiation’.


The major learning for me is that no matter who you are or where you live, there will always be an ‘us’ and ‘them.’ In some places, these differences will be socially constructed. In others, not so much. Worth observing here in Detroit.


4 thoughts on “The first day back

  1. You say that “our language defines our perceptions of the world”. This the reason I am blogging on two blogs: one in Romanian and one in English (on Blogger). Automated translators do not “feel” or “extract” the right sense from a phrase or from a word, so when I have something to say that it might be of interest for both Romanian and foreign readers, the best way is to translate the post myself. I am not sure that I am able find the best words, but I surely manage to describe what I meant better than an automated translator.
    Us and Them (Pink Floyd):

  2. PS Only certain posts are treated on both blogs, not all of them! Speaking of Pink Floyd and translations, I must say that their songs meanings are quite challenging even for native English speakers! Anyway, their music is beyond borders, beyond senses!

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