Since I walked onto the campus of James Madison University three years ago, I have had the privilege of visiting six new countries. From studying abroad in England, laying in hammocks with the family in Costa Rica, to traveling to Iceland for spring break, each trip has proven to be eye opening and unforgettable. Of course, every world traveler gushes about how their trip has changed them and made them a better person. Yet, not everyone goes into details on how white sandy beaches, lush green countryside, and centuries old European cobble-stone have lead to such changes. So here I shall give three reasons why my international trips have contributed to my overall growth during my college years.
1. Traveling Across the Globe Alone Leads to Independence
I must have checked to see if I was sitting in the right terminal of the Pittsburgh Airport 1000 times before boarding began. Then when I was sitting in my window seat to Atlanta, I sat in a state of utter terror at the thought of missing my connecting flight to Manchester. My panic was because for the first time in my life I did not have my family by my side as I maneuvered the steps of air travel. My nerves had convinced me I was in danger of not making it to Manchester, England to start my study abroad. Spoiler alert, I made it just fine.
Yet, after landing on British soil I did not magically blossom into an independent young lady. In fact, I spend my first groggy day and night in a hotel eating red vines, drinking the complimentary tea, and getting a kick out of the news anchor’s british accent on the tv. Why you may ask? Because I was afraid of going to a restaurant alone (or even ordering room service!) and starving seemed like a viable option.
So as you can tell, I was not the poster child for independence. Yet, somehow within the four weeks I was traveling throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland, I gained newfound independence. How? By simply realizing I didn’t want to miss out because I was scared. Instead of being scared of going on a train by myself, I went to Edinburgh and visited my dream destination-Scotland. Instead of being afraid of sight-seeing alone, I waltzed down the streets of York,England with a coffee in hand. By the end of the trip, I journeyed back to Pittsburgh alone without batting an eye. (I even ate breakfast alone at the airport instead of starving!)
Of course, independence can be gained without the price tag of international travel. However, for me it was an invaluable experience which taught me I could be self sufficient and be on my own without being scared. I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and learn to be independent, as it is a freeing experience.
2. Talking to Foreigners Broadens Perspective
Last spring break I went to Reykjavik, Iceland with a couple of my college friends. My friend Caroline and I decided we wanted to go on tours to see more of the natural beauty of Iceland (I recommend viator.com for booking trips!). One of the places we ended up at was the Secret Lagoon during a tour of the Golden Circle, which is basically a smaller, more budget friendly version of the famous Blue Lagoon.
While bathing in the hot spring, Caroline and I soon began talking to a middle-aged couple from England. After some small talk, the conversation took a more serious turn when they asked why American’s let Trump become President. Similarly, I struck back by asking why Brits could have allowed Brexit to get voted through. The four of us were very curious to hear the others opinions on the subjects, and became more educated on the subjects as a result.
Traveling has allowed me to communicate with a broad array of people, and as a result has opened my eyes to new viewpoints. This is one of the many reasons I find travel to be a great way to broaden your perspective of the world. Next time you find yourself in a new country (or even state!), try to connect with a native and see what you learn.
3. Travel Teaches You To Go With the Flow
I love plans.
I love buying movie tickets the day before the movie, making weekend plans on a Wednesday, and leaving for the restaurant thirty minutes before we said we would arrive. Still, I have had to learn that plans fall through, and just because Mom said we would have time to go to the Mall does not mean we 100% will. While I understand sometimes things don’t go to plan, it does not mean it does not bug me a bit each time.
When traveling, I have had to test my “just go with the flow” limits. This past summer, my family and I traveled to the Dominican Republic (our resort was 100% safe) and on our way home was greeted with a cancelled flight. I of course began to panic, as like I said I don’t fare well when plans get interrupted. In my head the days agenda was to go home and not stay on vacation for one more night, and I was very upset during the bus from the airport to the *bonus* resort. Still, hindsight is always 20/20, and looking back I realize I put a lot more negative energy into the stressful experience by getting upset over changing plans. Did getting upset fix the broken plane? Nope. Did I eventually get home safe? Yep.
Bottom line is, traveling has dealt me cards I have not wanted to deal with. However, each was a learning opportunity and has contributed to my overall growth. Thanks to the cancelled flight, next time I experience changing plans I will know better than to get upset.
My traveling adventures have shaped me into the person I am today, and I truly believe some of my best traits have come from travel. I believe having such life changing experiences during my college years has better prepared me to tackle my life journey ahead. I hope everyone gets to experience the joy of seeing the world, as you will find bits and pieces of yourself in the process.