Summer has come to an inevitable end, but conversations about what happened during that time never seem to. Aside from internships and jobs, a widely talked about subject that always seems to remain is travel. When people come back from trips abroad, it’s not uncommon for me to hear them say, “I’ve changed. No one here understands me.” And that’s something I’ve been guilty of numerous times in the past. It makes sense: nobody has gone through exactly what you’ve been through or felt what you’ve uniquely felt. An acquaintance of mine who seems to spend more time on a plane than in school went to social media to describe his numerous travel experiences and how wonderful it was — how blessed he felt — to travel to different countries. He explained how he couldn’t stay in the United States, for he knew there was too much to gain abroad. And time after time, he would repeat that no one seemed to understand him when he returned home. The knowledge he gained by his adventures in various countries, conversations with strangers and immersion in new cultures seemed to make him removed from people when he returned back to America.
I know from my travel experiences alone that they can be immensely eye-opening. I believe that traveling truly does help us learn about ourselves, others and the world we live in. But what do we do with these new views, these changed beliefs and attitudes and these refreshingly new world perspectives? What is the point of saying we’ve traveled abroad and “changed” and learned more about ourselves when all we continue to do upon our return is complain that no one else understands us?
Humans have a tendency to care more about their experiences and telling their own stories than listening to others, which makes compassion and understanding difficult to come by. Travel should make us kinder to each other. We gain appreciation for other cultures, opening our eyes to how people live in different ways across the globe yet maintain the same sense of humanity. We interact with others — whether other tourists or locals — and gain knowledge from these relationships. Most of the time, when we come back home, we describe how beautiful another place was, how kind others were, how inspirational a landmark was, how moved we were or how we’ve gained a better understanding of the world.
With these new experiences behind us, we should come back to the United States and spread what we’ve learned. It’s important to appreciate the culture and country we come from, yet identify the differences and similarities between ours and others. See how they work and how they don’t. Use the kindness and knowledge we’ve gained abroad to affect others. If we are so immensely moved by what we have been through, there is absolutely no benefit in complaining that we are misunderstood. One of the things you realize abroad is that everyone has a story, everyone is a human living their own life and that’s a beautiful and complex thing. Then what makes us think that people at home don’t have as much of an individual life and story? So many of us have traveled and gained something by it. We are not so grossly unique in that. But what differs from one travel to the next is our distinct interactions and experiences; those which can be shared and listened to.
Let us not allow the return from our travels to leave us jaded and bitter, hostile to our country and others who haven’t experienced what we have. We have the ability to spread what we have learned abroad in a positive light and share stories with people who have not had the chance or ability to do so, or those who similarly have. This world is already so divided, we don’t need any more misunderstandings and hostility within our country by those who think they are superior when they return.
I am not writing this as someone who believes they know all and is thus worthy of dictating the actions of those who travel. I have, however, identified the hypocrisies and contradictions within my own travels and realized how worthless it is to believe myself to be so enlightened. Those who travel, whether for leisure or for service, often recognize the feeling of solitude and isolation they find themselves in upon returning home. It’s a feeling that removes us from people who have moved on with their daily lives in what we find a stagnant and unexciting way.
But we do not need more walls — we have built enough of those. Now more than ever, we need bridges, those that can be construed through experiences with others, a broader understanding of compassion and peace and the underlying notion that we are all humans that, while living in different areas of the world with numerous cultures, backgrounds and beliefs, have a common ground in humanity and a hope for a better world for future generations. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” So let’s begin this journey of spreading the beautiful together.
Gaby Leung is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Serendipitous Musings appears alternate Thursdays this semester.