Student Essay: 4 Reasons Why Traveling Is So Important
This article was written by Connor Edward McGrane upon his return from Greece and Italy this spring. He writes about how his trip abroad changed his perspective and helped him gain a global perspective.
Last week I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Greece and Italy. While traveling through these two beautiful countries, I learned many things. I learned the ancient city of Pompeii had a brothel, that the word “gymnasium” comes from the Greek word “gymnós” which means nude, and that the Romans used to fill up the coliseum with water in order to have naval battles. However, what I will take with me for the rest of my life from this trip did not come from a guided tour.
1. It Opens Your Mind
Traveling opens your mind because you begin to see how people do things differently than you and still get by. We become so accustomed to how we do things that we believe it is the only way, and that anyone who acts differently is inferior. Traveling changes this. From big things such as religious practices to small things such as how you order your food, traveling opens you up to all types of changes.
These changes can get frustrating at times. For example, if you ask for water in Italy you will most likely still get bottled water and be charged for it. When ordering gelato, you have to pay first before telling them what you want. You take these changes and apply them to everyday life. You realize that if someone does things differently than you, it’s ok. Maybe that kid acts differently than you, talks differently than you. Traveling makes you realize that’s alright because there are other people in the world that would think your way of doing things is “weird.”
2. You Get to Experience Different Cultures
The most fun part of traveling is experiencing different cultures. New food, new music, new language, it’s so amazing how different it can be from ours. One feature of Roman culture I found interesting was that they air dry their clothes. In the United States, we would find this as a hassle since we like to get things done fast. However, the Italians value tradition. Neither is right, neither is wrong. Another interesting thing was how superstitious the Italians are.
Our tour guide provided us with a lesson on hand gestures not to make, as the Italians will take it as if you are casting the “evil eye” on them. Anti-evil spirit jewelry and decorations were sold throughout Greece. In the United States, we aren’t that superstitious, so it was amazing to see this. Trying different food was amazing as well. In the United States, we seem to think we are accustomed to all different types of food since it’s very easy to find a Mexican, Italian, Chinese, or Greek restaurant. However, these foods are quite different when made in their home countries. The true Greek Gyro had a much different sauce than the yogurt sauce used here and Gelato made in the states tastes like ice milk.
3. You Are Able to See New Scenery
One of the most amazing aspects of traveling to Europe is how different everything looks. Cobblestone streets, narrow roads, and tiny apartment buildings are all so different from what we have here in the U.S. Especially in New York City where the roads are long and wide, it was amazing to see streets where barely one car can pass through. The cars themselves were so much smaller. In the U.S., it’s quite common to see big SUV’s or minivans…not in Europe. Even the cities themselves were so much different. In the U.S. when we think of a city we think of something like New York City, huge skyscrapers, and buildings made out of glass.
This is what I expected to see when I traveled to Europe for the first time. Rome and Athens were nothing like that. There wasn’t a skyscraper in sight, and most of the buildings were extremely old. Here in the United States, everything seems so new compared to Europe. There was a piazza in Rome literally sitting on top of an ancient stadium. Our tour guide took us into one home in Athens where a man redid his basement to find a huge pot which was over 2,000 years old. The mountain ranges were also beautiful. Coming from Long Island, I have only seen a few mountains in my lifetime. Being in Delphi, a city in the mountains of Greece, was breathtaking. The mountains and valleys looked like they went on forever. They made the 4-hour bus journeys more enjoyable.
4. How Fortunate You Are to Live in the United States
If there is one thing I will never forget from this trip, it’s something the tour guide said to us. On our last day in Rome when saying goodbye to us, she began to talk about how important traveling is and how she hopes this trip has given us an urge to want to explore the world more. At the end of her farewell, she said “Even if you decide that you never want to travel again…Remember what you saw, and that you are all so lucky to have been born in the United States of America. America truly is the land of opportunity, a meritocracy. If you work hard, you will succeed. Never forget that.” This truly stuck with me and made me realize how lucky I am. How fortunate I am to live in an economic system that rewards hard work and innovation and encourages people to succeed.
A country which believes in individual rights and fights to defend them. A country where even our poor people can afford their own apartments, unlike the Romans, where the average person can only afford to rent a room in an apartment. I loved the look on people’s faces after I told them I was American. One woman asked me to take a picture for her, and upon hearing my accent asked if I was American. I said yes, and her response was “Wow!! You’re beautiful!” Afterward, I heard her say to her daughter, “He’s from the United States!!” It made realize how fortunate I am to come from such a great country.
Traveling is truly an amazing experience. I have learned a lot from the four European countries I have traveled to, and will continue to learn more as I further explore the world. Traveling doesn’t have to mean going all over the world, however. You can learn so much just from traveling to another part of the United States. The way people live in the south can be very different and interesting compared to here in the North. Even exploring the different boroughs in New York City will open your eyes to different cultures. As Ibn Battuta once said, “Traveling—It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
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In high school and college it is likely that you will receive some kind of encouragement to travel, study or work abroad. It may seem like you have a lot going on so you don’t seriously consider these opportunities or maybe you write them off since you plan on traveling later in life. I would encourage traveling at any age, but the earlier you can learn the lessons travel teaches the better.
When you are young you are still finding yourself and preparing for your school and career. The skills and experience you gain from traveling abroad can give you life-long personal benefits as well as a leg up in the professional world.
In high school and college you have the luxury of having flexibility since you can study anywhere in the world and have relatively long study breaks. It is a prime time to take advantage of your freedom and youth.
Top 6 reasons to travel abroad while you are young:
1. You’ll Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
As young people most of us have a pretty established comfort zone. At home with mom and dad, in a community that has known you for probably a good part of your life. You have your established, friends, activities, hangouts and possibly jobs. We become comfortable in these daily roles and the idea of breaking out them can be scary and uncomfortable.
The problem is, you learn the most in uncomfortable, unfamiliar situations. In our daily routines, you know how to act and respond to people and your surroundings. Being in a new place, with different people, who hold different values and go about life differently (or not so differently you may find) strips all that familiarity away.
It can be scary, but once you figure out that you can connect with people despite differences, and you can navigate foreign environments, you become a smarter, more competent individual. Embrace the discomfort. Search for it, because it is helping you grow.
Greenheart Travel volunteer, Danny Scott, with host family in Costa Rica.
2. Traveling Builds Confidence
As you conquer the obstacles of figuring out how to use public transit in a foreign country, or asking for simple things in a grocery store, you are building a confidence and ability to adapt in foreign situations. I remember moving to a country where I spoke little to none of the language.
When I returned home, I moved across the country to a state where I had no family, friends or connections. The prospect of that move may have intimidated me before living abroad, but then I thought to myself, ‘Well, if I can do it abroad in a completely foreign system, I will be just fine in a place where I at least share the language.’
You realize that you CAN do things, despite the obstacles and suddenly the obstacles seem less obstructive and more like welcomed challenges.
Greenheart Travel TEFL student taking in the city of Leon, Nicaragua.
3. You Will Develop Cultural Sensitivity
Being culturally sensitive is key in our globalizing world. It is not enough to say “people from X country are like this.” It is important to look for underlying values that may explain a certain behavior in order to practice cultural sensitivity. A good example is when I was in Spain (especially in the south), where they take a 2-3 hour siesta and lunch in the middle of their work day.
Many people view this cultural norm as the people just being lazy when it really has a lot more to do with the fact that historically Spaniards value family face time. Eating together as a family is more important to them than maximizing work time by scarfing a sandwich down at their desks.
Being aware of cultural values and norms is not only fascinating, but can help us understand international issues and conflicts, or even relate to the cultural norms of a foreign business partner. It is an important skill to be able to shift perspectives and see where someone else is coming from.
Cultural sensitivity will help you with your communication on both business and personal levels.
Greenheart Travel high school student in Spain.
4. You Can Adapt to Globalization
Whether you like it or not, with the internet and social media, we are globalizing quickly. It is not unlikely that you would end up with a job that has you travel for business or take part in conference calls with international business partners. In our globalizing world it is important to be culturally sensitive and it can’t hurt to know a foreign language.
In the business world, having lived abroad can give you a competitive edge. Use the confidence and cultural sensitivity that traveling helps you develop and help it make you successful.
Get work experience teaching English or completing an internship in Thailand.
5. Be Immersed in a Second (or Third) Language
Before I lived abroad I never truly understood the beauty of becoming fluent or even proficient in another language. In the United States we don’t need to know another language, or many would argue that. Once you travel abroad you realize that especially in Europe, almost everyone you meet speaks at least two languages somewhat proficiently.
We in the States have a bit of a disadvantage since geographically we cannot country-hop as easily as Europeans can. This is why traveling, especially for us, is even more important. I would argue that in the globalizing world it really can only benefit you to speak another language. Not to mention, it opens up a whole new world of people you can now connect with and understand that you would never have gotten the chance to get to know had you never learned their language.
Living abroad is really the best way to learn a new language since you are forced to challenge and practice your skills on a daily basis.
Greenheart Travel students perfect their French language schools at our language camp in Paris.
6. Infinite Opportunities to Network
I have studied and worked abroad and made some incredibly valuable connections. If you are interested in working internationally or even just having a couch to stay on in a country that you love, never underestimate the value of networking wherever you go.
One thing I have learned in my time abroad is that people are generally very friendly and love to talk about their home and culture. This is not always the case, but more than often it is. Making friendships abroad can make this big world seem a little smaller and help you feel more connected wherever you go.
The best advice I can give is to meet as many people on your travels as you can. It will definitely make your time abroad more enjoyable since the locals know best! Plus you never know when these connections will come in handy in the future whether visiting each other for fun or otherwise.