When I was 21, I had the opportunity through my university to go on an international trip to Paris. Since then, I have had the chance to take many international trips, all of which have altered how I see the world. To be honest (and somewhat cheesy), these trips have changed my heart as well.
I was fully expecting Europe, Paris specifically, to be everything I’d ever seen in movies- romantic, dreamy, straight out of a love story, perfect. In many ways, my expectations were correct and even exceeded. However, my compact, mostly sheltered worldview was shaken to the core on this trip and the trips I took in the years to come. I had never been outside of the States, never truly experienced another culture, and I had never really considered how people lived so differently than I did…until I traveled.
Spoiler alert!!!! People around the world DO live differently than you! I have had culture shock arriving in every new country I’ve visited. I expected things to be dissimilar, to a certain level, but not really to the extent that I encountered. It wasn’t anything negative, it was just foreign. I don’t think you can really appreciate or understand your own culture until you’ve been thrown into someone else’s. This culture shock really forced me to relearn everything I thought I knew about people from living in America. It felt strange at first; I needed to learn the rules, the expectations, the manners, the courtesies for this country while I was here, even if it meant I looked out of place.
I never realized how spoiled Americans are with SPACE until I stepped foot in Europe. Wow, spaces are much tinier! This was difficult for me to become accustomed to. Everything is smaller- bathrooms, restaurants, seating areas, space between you and someone else, apartments, hotel rooms, you name it. I have come to appreciate the smaller space in Europe each time I’m there. I’m not really bothered sitting inches away from someone at a cafe anymore, and I’ve learned I can live (for a time) in a condensed space while traveling. For me personally, this is something that would be hard to overcome if I were living in Europe. Americans, don’t take your space for granted! 🙂
Talk about a break in comfort. Landing in France for the first time, I couldn’t read or understand anything or anyone. Belgium was even more overwhelming, hearing three different primary languages. I’m thankful to have been with a group on every international trip I’ve taken, because I would’ve felt much more uneasy alone! The language barrier was tough for me to overcome, but surprisingly, just a few days immersed, I began to recognize language patterns, words, phrases. The one exception to this was in Greece. I never recognized any Greek in any shape or form. Ha! I realized how linguistically SHELTERED I had been growing up in North Texas. Many Europeans grow up not just learning a different language but utilizing it in their everyday life. To this day, I wish I had put more effort into the languages I had access to learning and had put them to use. In my opinion, language is an area in our American academics on which we could put a higher emphasis.
Modes of Transportation
Can I be honest with you? I had never really taken public transportation until I went to Paris. I grew up in a Texas suburb, full of cars and highways. I had NO idea how much walking, metro-riding, and bus-taking took place outside the U.S. I was hurting after my first trip because I had never had to walk so much! I have come to truly enjoy and look forward to walking as a traveler. I love getting familiar with a city in a way you can’t encounter from driving through it. You see so many details, overlooked streets, quaint shoppes, and have more interactions when taking a city by foot. Taking public transit will also keep you aware, not just of where you are and where you’re going, but who is around you. Getting myself acquainted with the metro really helped me learn my way around and feel confident in my ability to be an independent traveler.
Travel has allowed me to make friends and acquaintances all over the world. My interactions and conversations with these individuals have broadened my view, allowed me to think deeper, and shifted my perspective on many things. Some of these friends I will consider part of my soul for life. I am so grateful for their friendship, their openness, their points of view, and their love from far away (looking at you, Cri + Tim). I would encourage anyone going to a unfamiliar country to form relationships, friendships, or engage in social interactions with people from multiple nationalities. Your stories, your experience, and your life will be that much richer.
Being uncomfortable is part of traveling. This feeling of being uncertain is what will push you to discover and learn about other cultures and customs besides your own. I have had some of my most defining moments traveling while being completely uncomfortable. These moments stand out in my mind because I had to make some decisions on how to adapt. I remember being in Belgium at a church service that was completely in French. I was on sensory overload, and had a headache by the end of it, because I had to try and put pieces of a puzzle together in my mind using context clues, body language, and the people around me. It was exhausting. I look back now and recognize how uneasy I was, and how it pushed me to grow and adapt to my surroundings.
Nothing will shift your worldview like stepping into someone else’s. Issues and ways of life I never considered now enter my thought process when making decisions or learning about world events. Traveling is the best way to learn; I will forever stand behind this statement. It truly makes your life, your mind, and your ideology richer. You will no longer only think about yourself, in your country, in your little bubble. Now, you have your experiences in the back of your mind. For me…it’s a sweet, homeless, boy in Greece who doesn’t own shoes, or a small shop owner in a little German town that didn’t own a single electronic, or the teary-eyed WWII veteran in Normandy who thanked me, a normal American, for intervening for their country on D-Day. You become a better, more open, more selfless person. You are open to what other people think because not everyone lives like you do, and now you are aware of that.
The more of the world you see, the smaller it truly becomes. I take a piece of the world with me every time I travel. It’s these pieces that shape who I am, what I believe is valuable, and create in me a compassionate heart for others. I love the quote, “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”; it is so true. Enrich your life by broadening your experiences, being uncomfortable, and soaking up as much as you can from who and what you encounter.
How has traveling changed you and your perspective? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!
Travel far, travel often, make the world a better place as you do.