This guest post comes from Saige Connelly, a high school student wise beyond her years. I was fortunate enough to have Saige apprentice with me last year as part of her high school’s curriculum requirements. Below, Saige flexes her writing muscles and shares some things she learned traveling abroad.
“Only so much do I know, as I have lived.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
First things first, I’m a seventeen year old girl who has neither a job nor has even graduated high school, so I don’t blame you for thinking there’s nothing you can learn from a kid who’s hardly been around for two decades. However, this past summer, my family and I traveled to twelve countries in Europe in a span of five weeks and gained knowledge from the experiences that are applicable to anyone, any age. Here are four ways in which those experiences will change a person.
1. You’ll Become Vulnerable
There’s nothing quite like standing in the middle of a train platform, surrounded by people speaking a variety of different languages—none of which you understand—and who all seem to know where they’re going. Most travelers make immersing oneself in an entirely new culture sound like a walk in the park; it’s more of an uneven walk in the dark with obstacles littering the path. It’s in this vulnerability that you are your most resilient. While it’s exceedingly uncomfortable, it helps you to let go and really live in the moment—and reveals how you handle uncomfortable situations.
2. You’ll Learn to Verify then Trust
In the months leading up to our trip, all I heard was what to expect when we arrived in Europe.
“The French will be extremely rude, and they hate Americans.”
“Germans are reserved and blunt. They also don’t have sense of humor, so don’t bother telling jokes.”
“Italians are horrendous drivers and are always yelling.”
It was in moments like this I called to mind a particular phrase my history teacher engraved in our brains: verify, then trust. Every time we entered a new country, I reminded myself to be open to the people and their culture, because I would hate for someone to stereotype me for simply being American. The French were some of the most helpful people we met, the Germans were friendly and always had us in stitches, and the Italians . . . well, their driving was a bit crazy, but I’ve found they are some of the most welcoming, family-oriented individuals.
When you travel abroad, you never know what kind of people you’ll find. Some conform to the expectations we have and some don’t; the only way to find out the truth is to consider what others have told you and then go out there and see how it matches up. You’ll be astounded by what you discover about others.
3. You’ll Smile at the Problems You Face
Number of times my mom and I got in the wrong check-out line at the grocery store in France: four. Number of times someone spoke to me in another language, but I didn’t realize they were speaking to me: more than I can count. Number of times I mispronounced a word: way more than I’d care to share. I’m a type A personality, and all of these little mistakes irked me for days after they occurred—there are still some that make me cringe when I think about it now. When traveling, you have to give yourself leeway to let those accidents happen and let them roll of your back. If you don’t, those unimportant hiccups might ruin the experience.
4. You’ll Try a New Pair of Lenses
As a seventeen-year-old girl with a love for writing and an obsession with history and culture, there are many “lenses” that influence how I view the world around me. When on our trip, I had the privilege of being able to try on the lenses of other countries; for example, during our tour of the Normandy beaches and towns, I got a glimpse of what the World War must have looked to those living along that coast. The impact of trying new lenses never wear away, because they offer perspective to all events in life.
Life is a funny thing. It likes to challenge us with what makes us uncomfortable and slap us with the unexpected. No matter how life likes to get on our nerves, the experiences it gives us are always worth it in the end because it helps us grow as individuals.
Saige Connelly is a high school student, writer, and world traveler living in Boise, Idaho.