Being abroad teaches you everything you expect to learn and then everything you never realized you didn’t know.
The summer before sixth grade, I took my first trip out of the country, to Mexico, and met Nieve, a girl my age from Ireland. We were instant friends and spent the rest of the vacation playing in the pool and realizing the little differences between our cultures–like the fact that our shoe sizes were different. Nieve made an incredibly large impact on me, but it’s safe to say I’ll never be able to tell her that: all I know are the dates of my vacation (there was only a partial overlap), that we stayed at the Moon Palace, and that she had a younger brother named Michael.
|Poor quality photo of Izzy and me getting ready to go up Mount Pilatus (Switzerland, 2013).
In high school, I took trips two Europe through my high school—the first to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein. The one dreaded day of the trip came, and I accompanied my Jewish friend and cross-country teammate to Dachau concentration camp on a cold and snowing day; the shivers I had were magnified knowing that people had suffered through these winters wearing little to no clothing. Izzy asked to go to the Jewish memorial alone, so I continued to walk around, waiting for her to come out from the memorial. When I noticed her leaving the memorial, I walked over to her. Holding out a rock, talking through tears, Izzy told me to go put the rock in the memorial. I hesitantly entered and placed the rock on a large pile of rocks, located beneath a plaque written in Hebrew; I knew that the action had deep meaning and was honored to be a part of it—even it I didn’t know what I was doing. Later, Izzy explained that it’s a Jewish tradition to place rocks on graves of the dead, because the rocks will last forever while flowers will wither away. I learned more about the Holocaust by the way I felt in those few hours than I did learning about World War II in multiple classes throughout my school years.
Most recently, I sat on a boat on the Nile and listened to tour guide Sheriff talk candidly about his day-to-day life and the misconceptions that foreigners have about Egyptian life. He shared that Muslims and Christians are friends, that most Egyptians just want peace. That night on the Nile changed my life. The next morning, our tour group was even closer than before. Traveling with a group of twenty-two strangers could have been disastrous and I like to think our group was pretty special when it comes to how close we were. When people ask me what my favorite part of the trip was, they are in shock when I don’t answer with seeing the Great Pyramids or King Tut. It’s remarkable to be able to say that wasn’t
my top highlight.
Nieve, Izzy, Sheriff, and the Egypt group have taught me more in days than I have learned in years of traditional schooling. The more exposure I have to travel, the more I realize that seeing the sights isn’t the highlight. It’s meeting the people.
Side note: I’d like to apologize for the photo quality in this post. Out on the felucca, my camera just didn’t want to cooperate. The photos from that night have strange angles, are blurry, and the coloration is weird (I’ve recently discovered that this might be an ISO related issue). Despite their quality, I absolutely love the photos from that night…and well, I’m not sure what happened with that Mount Pilatus photo.