I still have a picture of myself from my first year in school, seated in small chairs in front of my desk, surrounded by other kids who may or may not know each other. At this time most of my surroundings were new and different to what I had been used to. At that time, being short in size made the whole world seem taller, bigger and at times huge. That is the reason why it felt both exciting and scary at the same time.
Between those differences, you need time and space so as to organize your thoughts and feelings about the world around you. This help came from the books given to you in your first year of school. One of the books that made a huge impression on me at that time was a book of geography. In this book, there were a couple of pictures from the country that I come from and many others from the rest of the world. Now, it may sound obvious because speaking of the whole world you immediately have a picture of the world map in your mind, however, I am wondering if you have ever thought about your really first impression of it. Have you?
From my personal perspective, it took some time before I realised and understood that the whole world did not purely exist of where I was growing but rather, it is somewhere much further than my daily life. The world map in the geography book helped me realise that the world around me had a specific scheme and within its borders, there were different countries with different names, cultures, languages and colours.
I learned how to recognise the difference in each of the countries from the locations that were marked and from the lines that lay in between. In other words, these lines are called borders and they stand as a reminder of my space in the world and the space in the world for others.
When you work with children, you know that their imagination can run faster than the sunlight and that they are capable of creating new things out of nothing. My story is not far from that. I took these lines I saw on the map for granted and I built real walls and wire netting, so as to make sure that this is my country and at some point it will be someone else’s. That’s how I interpret this information.
All of this makes it more than obvious that at this point I had never left my own country before. So, when my family arranged our first trip abroad by car, one of my expectations was to face the borders I saw on these maps and to pass through some kind of wall. Fortunately, this never happened. However, it took me a while to realise that was not a joke.
Many years later, having crossed literal and metaphorical borders I am still thinking about how real this image I used to have in my head was. Of course, not in terms of the real walls between the countries but the walls we have set around ourselves. How many borders have you set around yourself? Have you ever tried to face them? And what do they look like? Are they as tall as you are? And if we assume they have a voice, what would they say when you faced them?
Don’t search for walls in between countries, because hopefully you won’t find them. The question is, if you really dare to look at the walls you have set around yourself and understand that you are the land that maybe someone is trying to cross, and you yourself have built these walls. Sometimes it is the case that they have been built so high no one can reach you.
I hope at some point you realise that most of these walls are useless, and then you take the hammer by your side and you start to break them down. There is a whole world out there, and I hope you won’t miss it. And, if you are interested in passing the Geography test – one tip I can give you is that breaking a wall is not always enough, you need to build bridges as well!
By Julia Rakogianni
Edited by Rose Nickolds