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I Traveled Out of My Comfort Zone, and it Changed My Worldview

Author: Nicole Chininis, Real Life Stories

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.

Sevilla

“I Left My Heart In…”: A Millennial’s Love Story With Travel

Author: Nicole Chininis, Real Life Stories

I’ve always thought that when it comes to being a millennial, the biggest burden we carry is our love of travel. We have found ease and comfort with travel — something our parents and grandparents did not have before us. Things like study abroad have become a norm for most college students, and we establish ourselves as global citizens as we have adventures in places like England, China, Argentina, or South Africa. We have found our independence and in turn, found ourselves. But like any good love story, our hearts have also been broken into a million pieces.

My first love story was not with a boy, a slice of pizza, or even my dog. I fell truly, madly, deeply (a la Savage Garden) in love with “my place” the summer going into my senior year in high school. I had decided to spend a month in Spain in a Spanish immersion program, but little did I know how much it was going to change my life.

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Me (left) with my friend at the Feria de Sevilla in 2011.

We took a few trips to various cities, and when we arrived in Sevilla I knew I was done for. I remember walking in the neighborhood around our hotel and feeling at home but utterly confused. I had never been here before, so how did I feel so connected to this place? When we saw a flamenco show for the first time, I cried. I didn’t cry because the performance moved me. I cried because I knew that my short time in Sevilla was soon coming to an end, and I was missing a place that I hadn’t even left yet.

I returned to “my place” in college when I studied abroad for a spring semester. I felt more at home than ever. When my parents came to visit me, I remember feeling like they actually understood me now. It was then when I mentioned I wanted to go back, and about a year and a half later after graduation, I returned to teach English. I felt like I never wanted to leave.

As much as I missed my family every time I was gone, I was at my happiest because I was truly in love with who I was when I was in “my place.” I could walk down the streets like I had known them all my life, I danced flamenco in my flamenco dress at the annual Feria de Abril, and I now speak Spanish with a Sevillana accent. My friends from Sevilla lovingly call me “la Gitana de Boston,” a term which signifies my ability to blend in like a local. I was, and continue to be, changed for the better.

However, as millennials, our burden with our love to travel and ability to connect to a place is very much a blessing in disguise. I came back because I felt that’s what I needed to do: to start “the real world.”

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My most recent trip to Sevilla in 2016

Now that I’m back in the states, I never feel truly myself even though I’m surrounded by people I love and in the place where I grew up. I continue having a hard time finding the balance between regretting my decision to come “home” and believing that this is my path that was chosen for me. I feel like I leave a part of myself every time I go back and it’s painful. Half of my heart is left in “my place” and sometimes I don’t know how to deal with it. I ask myself: could my life have been different if I stayed? Would I continue to feel the same happiness I feel now? Should I just pick up and leave?

Let me tell you, millennials, however hard it is, I wouldn’t give it up for the world. This is life. We make decisions and hope we make the right ones. Although it’s hard sometimes, my experiences have given my life a richness I cannot explain. I remind myself how lucky I am that I have friends that treat me like family across an ocean. I am reminded that Sevilla is not going anywhere and that I am always welcome.

So go! Get on a plane, train, or in a car and leave your heart somewhere. Maybe if you’re lucky enough, you too will find your place.