Looking out the window while my father sped down the autobahn in southern Germany, I felt as if I was in a fairy tale. There were Hans Christian Anderson-esque houses with beautiful flower boxes and castles scattered around the countryside. I was eleven years old at the time and my family had recently moved to Germany for my father’s work as an Army Medic.
That was when it all started. My curiosity about the larger world began at that time. It was so beautiful! It was so different from anywhere else I had been. I thought, “What else was there to see?” I dragged my little sister with me off the military post to wander around the town outside the gates, armed with nothing but the simple German that I learned in school. We sampled cakes and candies at the local Bäckereien (bakery) and played on the German playgrounds, which were somehow more fun than the ones on post. Looking back……..how in the h*ll was I wandering around a German town at eleven years old with my 6-year-old sister in tow? Oh, the nineties were simpler times.
Fast forward 6 years and I am sitting in a Humanities class in a small high school in southern Alabama. The teacher, Coach Nichols, described his European journeys to the class using personal pictures including Michelangelo’s Pieta and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I loved that class and hung on to every word. I left there with much more than an appreciation for art. Coach Nichols and his class inspired curiosity and wanderlust and now in my 30’s it continues to be strong.
In college, I took my first solo international trip. One of my professors shared a flyer advertising Fashion Week in Hong Kong. As a young twenty-something obsessed with all things fashion, of course, I was in! Who wouldn’t be? No one else in my circle of friends was able or willing to go. After I tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit others to go on the trip, I decided to go alone. I called up the tour operator and sent in my money. Since then, I have traveled to 7 more countries, including a life changing yearlong stay in Turkey. And there are many more “must-sees” on my list.
Travel opened my eyes to the world. It has made me feel free and independent. It has shown me what I am capable of doing. Because of these experiences, I have more confidence in myself. I have witnessed the good in people around the world. Most importantly, as an educator of immigrants to the United States, I have acquired a fair amount of empathy. That was me at the Turkish Postane looking lost with tears in my eyes because I didn’t know exactly what to say and where to get in line to ship my package. Living in a country where you don’t know the language is pretty hard and is a good lesson in humility that many Americans don’t understand. Actually, the USA is not the end-all-be-all that many of us think and there are other ideas and ways of doing things from which we can learn.
My advice to the 90% of Americans that did not travel internationally last year,
Get up! Get out! Be Adventurous!