THE BLOG
12/31/2014 01:05 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2015

How Riding the Metro in a Foreign Country Taught Me to Appreciate Humanity

For someone who has lived in a small town all her life, the public transportation of Barcelona--specifically the metro system -- at first seemed to represent the glamour and sophistication this cosmopolitan city had to offer.

Although abroad in Barcelona for my junior year, I was quite terrified of approaching the metro system those first few days. I was daunted by my sheer ignorance regarding such a system: How would I ever navigate the metro properly? What would happen if I got lost? Would anyone find me? How do you figure out which exit is the right one?

What if I missed my stop? What if I fell asleep and woke up, only to find myself in Paris? These questions -- very real, very possible -- haunted me every time I had the misfortune of spotting a metro map or glancing at a a metro sign on the street. However, there's only so much time one can spend in Barcelona without using the metro and, despite my qualms, I was eager to experience life underground.

After my initial boardings of the metro, I eventually became an expert at the system and truly enjoyed using it, as I felt it sealed my status as a Barcelona insider. No longer was I a timid tourist, metro map glued to my hand. I was instead -- dare I say -- a confident Catalan who could anticipate every curve of the metro even before it had happened. Yes, make no mistake, I was a changed woman: a self-assured, brazen city girl who knew her way around a metro. Heck, sometimes I would choose a random metro stop and go there, just because I could! At this point, I was just shamelessly showing off.

Now finally comfortable, I was able to relax and reap the benefits of one of the best parts of the metro experience: the people-watching. However, this activity quickly gave way to something much more meaningful. Elbow to elbow with strangers from all over the globe, I began pondering questions regarding the simplicity of what it means to be a human being.

During my commutes to and from the university, I would observe the group of strangers sitting next to me and wonder who, exactly, were these people? Where did they come from? Where were they going? What did they eat for breakfast? What were their opinions, their beliefs, their dreams? At some point when I wasn't looking, the metro became a space to observe and appreciate humanity, right up close, a reminder of the commonality and interconnectedness that human beings all share, regardless of our supposed differences.

Instead of a mere continuation of a rushed schedule, public transportation gave me time to look outside of myself and take in the present moment. By simply tuning in to those around me, my commute took on a different meaning: I was able to appreciate my surroundings and place in the world for the fleeting present moment, all before the metro doors opened and the jostling to exit began. Being an American, I know very well just how common it is to complain about not having any time. It took going to Barcelona and using the metro system to understand just how simple it is to find that time. Little moments of life -- like those provided by public transportation -- are an easy way to take in the present moment and to be reminded of our place in the universe. The only requirement? Only to observe where you are.