“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” -St. Augustine
When we leave the United States, we fly away from everything that we know as truth. Our family, friends, foods, language, beliefs and more are left behind. Other than our perspective, our culture just can’t fit inside that suitcase. It’s all left safely on the ground below the pilot’s wingtips. Where we’re headed, none of it would make sense anyway.
Students returning from studies abroad are ready to tell us all about their experiences upon their arrival. We often hear about perspective. We often hear that it has changed. Students tell us that after spending time outside the United States, they return with fresh eyes and new considerations for what was once taken for granted.
I enjoy hearing these stories, these tales of enlightenment. They remind me of similar instances I’ve experienced while abroad. They remind me that our way isn’t the only way. They remind me that our way isn’t always the right way.
It was while lost in Greece, being led to my hostel by a woman whom I’d never met before, and with whom I could not communicate, that I recognized that hospitality only begins in the South.
It was when confronted with a French man who knew that I knew that he spoke English, but refused to speak anything but French, that I reconsidered the position of the Spanish speaker in the United States.
It was while reading about the latest Kathoey (transgendered) beauty contest winner in a local Thai newspaper that I acknowledged how much we really oppress particular genders and sexualities in the United States.
It was while drinking homemade wine with a Quechua family in the jungle of Ecuador that I truly realized happiness has absolutely nothing to do with how much or little one has.
It was while touring Cambodia that I understood circumstances can always be worse, and that smiles always do more than complaints.
It was while sitting in Office of Study Abroad that I heard a student say, “I learned to appreciate the small things in Italy, like sitting down for dinner. And not working through lunch.”
And I smiled.