[John Mroch | Contributing Writer]
John is studying at Herts from California State University, Long Beach
By the end of my first day in London, I had been awake for 32 hours, figured out “The Tube”, and completed my first pub-crawl. It had been a long and exhausting day of flying, walking and, well, boozing, and I dozed off with a satisfied smile, thinking about what the coming months had in store for me. It was my first time out of my home country, and I felt that the world – or at least Europe – was mine to explore.
Now I can’t say for certain, but I imagine this is a common feeling people have their first time traveling. Realising that one has no agenda to follow, except to visit cities they have only seen in pictures, is a magically freeing sensation.
So, over the following month I travelled to Skerries, Ireland; Berlin, Germany; and Copenhagen, Denmark. As intended, I saw breath-taking architecture, met beautiful people and learned a little more about myself. But were these the reasons I ventured to these places? Or were they just the perks that came with each authentic moment of my travels?
Before I left for my trip, I was told a few things: “You’re going to have the adventure of a lifetime!” and also, “You know, the next time I see you, you’re going to be a different person!” Our wiser, better-travelled friends and family members tell us these things, smiling knowingly and shaking their heads slowly at us like they’re “in” on some joke we don’t yet know.
The funny thing about what these people tell us is that we know that it’s probably true: That we are going to head out into the world and have our eyes opened to new sights, our ears opened to new languages and our pallets opened to new foods. But what we don’t realise is that it isn’t what we see, what we hear or what we taste that changes us. Instead, it’s the seeing, the hearing and the tasting. It’s the experience of traveling that shapes us into someone new.
Now, traveling isn’t a one-way affair. It doesn’t have to be just us, the nomads, who get to leave wiser than when we arrived. As travellers, we have the exciting undertaking of sharing our own advice too. This provides a chance for us to get beyond the apparent cultural differences between those we meet and ourselves, and it allows us to recognise the unmistakable similarities that make us all human.
In Skerries, I got to know a divorcée who was struggling emotionally from an unprecedented loneliness. In Berlin, I became close friends with a twenty-five year old journalist who was sick of his current nine-to-five job and was excited to move onto something bigger. In Copenhagen, I hung out with a young woman who couldn’t focus on her doctoral work because she was too-often distracted by the torments of love and heartbreak. In return, I offered my consolations, and shared similar stories and worries of my own. The only things that made my versions different were the people, the sights, the sounds and the tastes.
So, in the end my family and friends were right. I’m having the time of my life, and I’ll return a new person. And, if empathy is the only thing I truly learn during my time abroad, at least I can leave here knowing I helped some friends understand it a little bit better as well.
If you’re also on a study abroad year either to or from Herts and would like to share your experiences email firstname.lastname@example.org