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By Alyssa Slager, Communications Intern
July 20, 2015
Anytime I leave the country to venture to a new place, I get this nervous feeling. Normally, I don’t express this to anyone because, naturally, I want to come off as unafraid of any sort of travel. But it’s there. It happens when I’m sitting, waiting, in the gate to board a plane. I’m scared of not fitting in, the people I’ll meet, the crazy experiences I’ll have, but most importantly I’m anxious of how I will feel when another part of me is left in a whole different country.
With the help of my awesome parents, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some unforgettable countries. By studying abroad, volunteering, and just visiting these places, it enabled me to have various experiences that have altered the way I live my life.
It was in the Dominican Republic that I truly realized the value of understanding different cultures. I went to lectures with Dominican students and we interacted respectfully. We put aside our obvious differences in order to better comprehend each other’s cultures. By doing so, we were able to communicate extremely well. This positive and easy communication allowed us to talk about anything without greatly offending the other. As a global studies major, I am constantly interested in how to communicate better with other countries. Improved understanding of foreign cultures is necessary to confront and solve major problems facing our global society today. From the stimulating debates and discussions I had with my Dominican classmates, I understood that appreciating and being aware of someone’s culture allows for excellent communication.
So, when in Nicaragua I was elated to meet someone my age and inquire about her culture. The two of us sat there, separated in the moment by nothing but space, talking about girly things and constantly giggling. From surface level we couldn’t seem more different. She lived in a small community of displaced people directly next to a garbage dump. The people of this community are under extreme poverty, and the conditions they live in are devastating. Although my life is incredibly different than hers, if you looked closely you could see the similarities. We both smiled, we both laughed, and we both interacted as if we were two close friends. The time I spent with her taught me more than I can convey in this post. But most importantly, she taught me to focus on the simplicity of a happy life.
When I travel, I am not traveling for a check on a list. I do not wish to explore a whole new place just to simply say, “Oh, I’ve been there”. When I come home and stick a pushpin through my world map, it is because I felt apart of wherever I was. My uneasy feeling never goes away because each time I travel a part of me is indeed left behind. When connecting with the people of another country, learning their culture and values, and seeing how they live, one can learn more than ever imagined. I travel to seek knowledge, understanding, and enlightenment.