Can you believe that traveling abroad taught me how to be a better person? It was my senior year in college when an advisor told me that I was 5 credits shy of a minor in Spanish. So I found a 5-credit study tour of Spain; and after much debate, I decided to go. Without knowing it, I had just made one of the best decisions in my life.
Over the course of two weeks; we toured castles, museums, and other historical monuments. However, my most valuable lessons came after class, when I was able to explore the local culture and community.
Lesson 1: Being a nerdy black girl is OK.
First, I realized that outside of the USA; being a black woman doesn’t come with all of the stereotypes about who you are or who you should be. This was an amazing discovery because up until that moment, I had never felt 100% comfortable in my own skin. I was frequently in situations where I felt the need to educate individuals or defend my choice of interests. This was definitely not the case. It’s like the chains had been broken, and I was free to fly!
Lesson 2: Be open-minded.
I saw first hand how our American way of life is not the only way of life. For example, delicious looking jelly rolls with flies all around them, 2 or 3 hour ‘siestas’ (breaks) in the middle of the day, room-temperature glasses of water without any ice, no elevators, and no ranch dressing are just a few of the differences that sent many of my classmates into full-fledged tantrums! True, I was shocked; but I didn’t criticize or complain—different strokes for different folks.
Lesson 3: Be more humble.
A few days into the tour, we were on the bus riding through the mountains when I really began to treasure the opportunity. After seeing castles where kings and queens once lived and structures built so many years B.C.E., I was suddenly overcome by an overwhelming sense of pride. It may seem odd; but in my heart, I felt like I stood for something deeper than just myself. I imagined my ancestors and savored a different taste of freedom for the first time.
Lesson 4: Learn another language.
By not expecting everyone to speak to me in English, I noticed a level of kindness that opened my mind. As I stumbled over my words in Spanish, people treated me with more respect and humanity because they appreciated my effort. In my case, a simple interest in another language ended up opening doors and pointing my life into a completely new direction!
In retrospect, the study tour gave me priceless life-lessons. Since that initial trip abroad, I have gone to several different countries while constantly growing as an individual. It has added art, culture, awareness, fun, friends, and memories that will last a lifetime! In the end, I am so thankful for that opportunity because I can’t imagine what my life would be without it.
Maya has an itch for traveling, a love of art, and an eye for photography. She’s lived in New York, Texas, Puerto Rico, and Oklahoma and has traveled internationally consistently since 2002. Although educated as an ESL teacher, Maya believes real life experiences are life’s greatest lessons. You can find out more about this amazing nerd on her blog, www.creative1llusion.wordpress.com.