Traveling truly does provide you with just about everything you need.
It allows you to expand your point of view, and expand your knowledge. Think of it as being completely nearsighted, and then putting on glasses for the first time in your life. You now can see not only what is in front of you, but the the things beyond what your hands can reach. Things are clearer, and you have a better understanding of what’s around you.
My time spent traveling abroad shaped who I am today because of the people I met, the food I ate, and the life that I lived. But, I felt like for a long time that I never really expanded outside of my true comfort zone. This is a big confession for a Study Abroad Advisor, but let me explain.
I’ve spent my fair share of time across Europe and some of Latin America, visiting friends who are living abroad, or living abroad myself. In Spain, I immediately felt at home, because I spoke the language, and the culture felt familiar, thanks to my Greek heritage. Of course, the cultures are different, but there was something about being in loud, friendly groups of people that made me feel at home.
Even though I felt at home in Spain, I still experienced culture shock, which mostly came from speaking Spanish as a second language. For instance, it was difficult to not be able to find the right words I wanted to use, or not fully being able to understand things my friends said. But after some time, I was able to blend in and adapt to Spanish culture and language like it was my own.
After my time in Spain, I was then fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks in South Africa, immersing myself in local culture, as I did in Spain. It was an experience unlike any other I have ever had. It was one of the first times that I didn’t know what to expect. I knew about some the history of Apartheid, a system of government that required segregation by race, but I had no idea of the tremendous impact it still has on the day to day lives of the people who live there.
I also didn’t know what to expect in terms of food while traveling, as South African cuisine is not something that is as internationally common as other cuisines, and I really had no idea of what to expect in the townships. I was constantly out of my comfort zone, but at the same time, I felt like I was taking in so much.
Over the course of the trip, I spoke with everyone I could, and I really reflected on my preconceived notions, stereotypes, and misconceptions that I had about South Africa prior to my trip. Without any expectations for the country, I was able to truly see things with clarity and open eyes.
My trip to South Africa provided my ability to take a step back in my own life, and reflect on experiences here within the United States. South Africa ended Apartheid a little over 20 years ago. But, I felt like so many of the conversations we were having about racism, segregation, and where they were as a country were so similar to the conversations we are having here. It challenged my perceptions of where we are, and how far we have to go, and it made me truly admire the South African people. As much as they have to go, South Africa is incredibly resilient, strong, and mindful of the work that is ahead. It was inspiring and eye-opening.
I wouldn’t have had this moving experience if I stayed in my comfort zone. It made me more aware of my experiences, no matter where I travel to, because it has given me a different point of view. I learned that I need to take myself out of what I think I know, focus on what I don’t know, and challenge myself to find out. I challenge you to do the same.