WHOA – Colby Grey

My name is Colby Grey, and I am a Philosophy major. I studied abroad twice as a UCSC student. In fall 2021, I studied on an Independent Program through CIEE in Copenhagen, Denmark, and in spring 2022 I studied abroad on Semester at Sea, visiting a total of twenty countries.

Cycling is an important activity to me, and during my study abroad program, I had the opportunity to go on an incredible cycling journey through Europe. As I cycled through the slopes of the Swiss Alps to the bumpy Cobblestone of Austrian Old Town Villages to the serenity of the German countryside with nothing but the chirping of birds as my tour guides, I asked myself: who am I? What was this feeling of home and comfort in a place I had never seen before? I’ve always joked around with my friends that the more I travel, the less I know about how I identify. I grew up in a small conservative farm town in the state of California, an enigma to the rest of the world who views California as either the bustling flashing lights of Hollywood or the hilly slopes of San Francisco overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Growing up after the death of my father to an intoxicated driver in 2016, I learned to navigate the world on my own at a young age. I found a faith community that resonated with me, that was up until I came out as gay. Coming out offered me another community to be a part of, but it was one that I always felt like I was never fully represented in being a Christian or where I felt as if I was somebody’s accessory, being valued for the sole reason of my sexual orientation. 

Along with this, I grew up in a town without the infrastructure and resources to get around without a car, which made it difficult as a cyclist. Thus, I never felt like I was the mold for my small town. When I studied abroad for the first time in Copenhagen, I was living in a city that I identified more with, one that I felt proud to be a part of as I biked to school each day or where gay people were integral members of society. This was the catalyst to go on a journey of self-discovery: to travel across Europe with only a bike as my navigator. The more I traveled, the more I kept getting this feeling that this world wasn’t designed to be seen by way of a 4,000-pound carbon-emitting machine inside the comfort of leather seats as the music drowned out the outside, polluting the very same paths it drove by. This path was designed to be sensed. The sight of flowers blooming with colors that couldn’t be demoted to the confines of a primary or secondary color, is a seeming injustice to its uniqueness. The sound of endearing nervous laughter from a boy sitting on a bench with a girl that I could say with absolute certainty was that of a first date. The smell of the air on the verge of a drizzle, was not enough to stop us in our tracks but enough to add to the serendipity of it all. The taste of foods along the way felt as if my taste buds were expanding on the spot to accommodate the new flavor, despite my inability to even pronounce most of the foods. The instinctual touch of my hand clenching the rubber bicycle handle to brace for the car behind me, forgetting that in Europe, bike lanes were as big if not bigger than car lanes. 

The wheels turned inside my head as I tried to put my ambivalence into words. It was a pairing of grief and stimulation. Grief for realizing how little my daily life allows me to sense the world around me. A stimulus to make it not just a bucket-list adventure, but a reality to sense the world a little better each day, even after coming down from the trip of a lifetime. As I prepare to depart for Graduate school in Europe, I’ve realized that identity isn’t just tied to where we are rooted, but where we branch out. I view identity as a puzzle: assuming that the puzzle is completed simply by our upbringing does a disservice to all of the other ways of life available to us.