Two years ago, I was in India on a two week study abroad course that forever changed my outlook on life. Previous to this trip, I had also gone on a trip to Amsterdam for two weeks and while completely different than India, was just as life-changing. Going to a different country and seeing how people live around the world compared to where I grew up was truly eye opening to my own western privilege, and also helped me gain more confidence in myself.
My first time abroad alone was to Amsterdam for a course where I also had ample free time to roam the city and even got to travel to other cities in The Netherlands such as Gouda, Delft, and The Hague. Even though Europe has it similarities to America, it also is a completely different culture where people actually take Sunday's off to rest and spend time with family and where coffee is rarely served in a to-go cup because people take time to actually sit down to enjoy it with a cookie. It exposed me to a world of amazing architecture and art, and I also got to talk to so many people from the country that were welcoming and friendly, who showed me how you can connect with others even from different backgrounds and cultures.
Not only was I exposed to a different culture, but I also got to gain confidence in myself as I traveled back alone and spent time alone in the country, learning how much I am capable of doing for myself.
I don't think that you can truly appreciate your own circumstances until you see a different culture, especially one that is so different from your own. While in India, we visited many hospitals that were far from the standards that I am used to in the United States, and also slums where children were running around without pants or shoes because their parents could not afford them. I learned to have a great appreciation for the little things, such as the sewage system in America and the availability of bathrooms with running water and soap to wash your hands with. We also stayed in Bengaluru, one of the biggest cities I have ever been in. It is incredibly eye opening, especially if you are from a smaller city or town, to realize how small you are in such a large world when you are in a city that has a population of over 8 million people.
India was completely different experience from Europe, as I got to travel throughout the south and even got to go to the southern tip of the country, experiencing the various differences in culture and religion within the country and see past typical stereotypes of India. The food was completely different than what I typically eat, and it was trying experience in itself to go without meat for two weeks and eat all Indian food. Fully immersing yourself in a different culture, including their food, helps show you how people live in that part of the world and gives you an alternative view of the world that you would not have without leaving your home.
Traveling is scary for many people and definitely takes one out of their comfort zone. But I have found that some of my best experiences in life have been when I did not know what to expect and was not fully comfortable with what was happening. It is okay to be scared and to feel uncomfortable, because otherwise you will always be doing the same things throughout life and never learn anything new.
Traveling can also be expensive, and I did these trips off of student loan money and I don't regret it. I know that not everyone can afford this though, but even traveling to different parts of the United States and getting out of the state you were born in can help show you the differences in peoples lives and culture just within the United States.
I am forever grateful for the opportunities I have had to travel abroad and just travel in general, and after going on these trips I always think about how fortunate I am to be in a position to do so. I think that traveling abroad is something that every person should get to do in their lives in order to expose themselves to far away parts of the world and how other people live. Without exposure to different kinds of people and cultures apart from our own, how can we possibly have any understanding of the world itself? I hope to continue to travel and explore throughout my life and continue to learn about other cultures and more about myself because I don't think we are ever truly done learning.