The person I was last summer is a lot different than the person I am now... and I give a lot of the credit to a trip I took to the UK before my freshman year of college. After 4 years of seeing the same faces every day at school, in the same small town I'd grown up in, I was anxiously ready for a change in scenery. When an opportunity came to volunteer overseas shortly after graduation, I took it. I never would've guessed a small city in Northern Wales would make such a profound impact on the way I see people and go about my day to day life.
As a young impressionable person, the best thing you can do is introduce yourself to environments and people that challenge the way you see the world.
Traveling abroad gave me this, and more.
Aside from the rolling green pastures and incredible view from across the Menai Strait that greeted me when I stepped into the city of Caernarfon, I was almost immediately struck by the connection I felt with the Welsh people. With each new encounter, I was welcomed with open arms and asked about my life in the states. The people wore their Welsh heritage on their sleeves with pride, listened to our stories with intention, and showed gratitude for our service that was humbling.
One experience really stood out to me. In the basement of an old Welsh church, remodeled in the hopes of revitalizing Christianity in the Welsh people, I had an impactful conversation that has stayed with me to this day. In the middle of our potluck dinner, an older gentleman sat down next to me and we immediately began conversing as if we'd known each other for years. We bonded over our love for European history, Star Wars, and conspiracy theories. We had both recently lost a parent to cancer. We laughed over my inability to pronounce the Welsh word for "good afternoon" (prynhawn da).
After nearly an hour of sharing my life story with a stranger from halfway across the world, I was struck with a realization that has transformed the way I see people, no matter how close or far they are away from home.
In the end, our experiences and the people we encounter along the way, help us discover who we are. Despite our differences, our identities, the religions we choose to follow, our ethnicity, or our age, we are all bound by our desire to share our stories. To be heard and appreciated for our journey and where we hope it leads. Traveling to another country gave me this realization and it's something that money can't buy. You have to experience it for yourself.