Ode to International Travel

International travel teaches you the most. You must step outside of your comfort zone to travel away from the familiar. You must change your mindset to being the stranger in a strange land. You must acknowledge that what you fundamentally believe may not be what others do. You must find energy to go out and explore your surroundings, even if you are jet lagged or tired. You may not have another chance to explore this place after all. For all these requirements, the rewards are myriad.

Traveling internationally teaches you simultaneously about yourself and others. You see the contrast of the countries and cultures as you step through the looking glass. You learn languages most efficiently because it is the norm of the place you are rather than a treat or a class once in a while. You find places you never knew existed and places your compatriots may never see. You can taste foods that you never could and may never be able to prepare. You realize there is the list of things you think you wouldn’t eat and there is the list of things you never even imagined people could eat. Because of this you find new foods and you find you like things you thought you didn’t before. Your appreciation for the world, for your own country, for other countries increases. Your whole world expands and not in the little, secret way that finding a hole in the wall in your own country does, but in the way that you destroy all the walls of a cottage and build a mansion on top of it. You find the things you truly like and dislike. You have a chance to actually evaluate your values.

You can add so much positive and let go of negatives you have unreasonably been clinging to. You meet new friends. You find that you can spend years and thousands of miles away from friends and loved ones and not sense a single moment passing. You can worry about people you care about when you are a world away, and so, you can feel the relief of knowing they are well. You can celebrate great accomplishments. You realize the true relativity of time. You can time travel. You can lose entire days of your life. You can know that the new year will come.

You have awkward and terrible experiences that become the best stories. You learn fundamentals of communication. You come to appreciate the subtleties of speech and action that can make the difference between a dumpling and sleep. You are humbled by the shear vastness of the world. You are decimated by the capacity for evil, which teaches you compassion in turn. You are lifted by the generosity of people. Your eyes open to a rich and impoverished world you could ignore in the comfort of your own country. You get to see how other countries value the world, how they emphasize laws or customs, how they view nature, how you view these things. Traveling abroad can be a relaxing beach. It can be escape from the troubles of your day to day life. It can be the much needed stroking of your ego. It can be a challenge to bring yourself enlightenment.

You can climb the tallest mountains, tread the deepest canyons, immerse yourself in a sea of people, find complete and utter solitude. You will encounter climates that you never had. You can experience the natural power of the world, see the accumulated effect of thousands of years of sculpting by people. You can take a zip line in which the safety orientation is “sit”. You can end up hitch-hiking across the highest highways in the world. You can end up in a plane you are happy to skydive out of. You can go four wheeling in a bus.

You learn to question what you see, to be curious, and to politely evaluate rather than blindly spouting your own opinions or beliefs so deeply held by your culture that you don’t even understand why you hold them personally. You learn skills you never thought you need: how to politely offer money to someone, how to avoid a pick-pocket, how to haggle, how to navigate red tape, how to survive a night in the mountains, how to navigate a city, how to handle the unexpected, how to hail a cab, how to humble yourself. You learn how to organize a city. You find out how to rent a car. You find the truly international. You find places that exist nowhere else in the universe. You find yourself dipping into three languages to be understood…kind of. You turn a corner and find a secret fountain, a park, an artwork worthy of any textbook and yet ignored, silently waiting to show you the artist’s expression. You see the greatest accomplishments of architecture and the ruins of neglect. You learn the best transportation schemes and the worst. You find yourself evaluating everything you see, and if you are lucky, you can appreciate both Chinese and Americanized Chinese food for the rich banquets they each offer.