Travel is the sandpaper with which I polish my soul. But rather than breaking me down, it adds new layers, hiding the ugly rough patches under a smoother, cleaner coat of wisdom and understanding. It has made me tolerant of people who think differently than I do. It has taught me how to recognize the beauty in others. It has expanded my palate. It has made me more in awe of the beauty of this planet. It has taught me how different our customs can be, but how similar our motivations are, across cultures. It has exposed me to a host of new personalities, all which have taught me something about myself and about the world. It has often put me at the mercy of strangers, who constantly surprise me with their kindness.
I have experienced things some people have only dreamed about, or haven’t had the imagination to even dream about. I’ve slept on the beach in Spain, wandered the streets of Venice, drove cross-country in Costa Rica, kissed the Blarney Stone, sampled goulash in Prague, and drank wine out of a baby bottle in a Parisian restaurant. All of these things have changed me, some in small ways, some in big. Every late-night, wine-soaked conversation, every unusual dining experience, every time I started feeling panicky because I didn’t know where I was, what I was doing, or how to speak the language, made me stronger, more self-reliant, and gave me a unique window into the soul of a culture that was not my own. The hospitality of the Italians, the passion of the Spaniards, the vivaciousness of the Greeks, the laid-back attitude of the Costa Ricans – these qualities marked me as different from them. But as I got to know individual members of these cultures, I realized that our core values are universal: love of family, love of life, and the desire to do good. And I was able to pick up little pieces of those cultures and tuck them into my proverbial toolkit, to shake off and use when circumstances called for it.
Ireland with the Siblings
Eight years ago I packed up my bags and took off for another corner of the world, Europe. I was able to combine reaching my goals (in this case, graduating college) with the exploration of a different part of the world, a place where different cultures, languages, and cuisines are tightly packed into one small continent. And not just for two or three weeks, which would really only allow the the most superficial glimpse into these cultures, for for three and a half months. I was entirely immersed in language, custom, way of thinking. I had no idea it would revolutionize the future path of my life as profoundly as it did, but I am grateful every day that I learned what some people never have the chance to learn: That the world is out there just waiting to polish us, if we have the courage to let it.
Mykonos, Clock Tower in Prague, My Future Hubby (Roman Bum)
And so, just two short months ago, I found myself once again packing my bags to take off for another corner of the world for a while. To see, taste, marvel at the wonders of the magical continent of Oceania (which totally sounds like a cousin of Atlantis, no?), to continue to pursue my other life goals (success in my career) while also allowing myself to be polished even brighter.
P.S.: I realize that Australia may not always be technically considered Oceania, but I’m just gonna go with it because it sounds so pretty.
P.P.S.: I have to give a shout out to my dad – today is his birthday on this side of the International Date Line! So happy birthday Dad, the man who was my first hero, first love, the one who set the bar way too high for any future mere mortal of a man to ever measure up, who I adored as a child and who has the highest level of my respect now that I am an adult (sorry it took me a while to get there). I owe all of this to you, for your financial and emotional support eight years ago when I decided to study abroad. I love you.