Traveling changes you. That girl who stepped foot on her first international flight isn’t the same woman who sits here writing these words. How could I be? I’ve felt the rough stone wall of an abandoned church as I leaned against it, staring out over the rolling hills of Tagaytay. I’ve clinked glass after glass of soju with a woman who spoke no English, sampling every beautiful piece of seafood laid out before us. I’ve walked barefoot through the stream of fairies in Vietnam, eyes trailing the red and tan gradient of the rock walls that bordered it. I’ve learned a handful of different words for the same object as I bonded with South Africans, Kiwis, Brits and others. I’ve learned that even if we all seem to speak English our versions of the same language couldn’t be more different. I’ve sipped foreign cocktails and danced the night away in a Russian bar in Vietnam, a local club in Puerto Princessa, and drank like a Korean ahjusshi more than once while nibbling buttered squid.
I’ve learned how to connect with people whose language I couldn’t understand. I’ve learned that words held different weight in different languages even when they translate to the same thing. I’ve learned that you don’t have to use your words to cheer up a crying child, and just having them try to slap your palm before you snatch it away is a game understood through any culture or emotion. I’ve learned not to judge, that more often than not the words and actions of others are usually filled with good intentions. I’ve learned I can make friendships everywhere I go, and that all it takes is honesty and caring.
I’ve learned measuring one’s age is relative, and that living in Korea, I was considered 1 when I was born. Now, I can’t remember if I’m 27 or 28. I’ve learned first impressions are strange. Most people I meet now never assume I am American. Until I speak they wonder if I am even from an English speaking country at all.
I’ve learned people change; that even if you think you know someone, just like you, they can change. I’ve learned you can’t go back to your old life. It all carries on without you, and even if nothing has changed it still won’t be the same. But why would you want it to be? You’ve seen other worlds, other cultures. You’ve lived in a place that is so far removed from the home you knew that it will always be a part of you now.
I am a Caucasian girl from an upper middle class family who grew up in the suburbs of America. My world was small, sheltered, limited. With each new experience and sight, however unsettling or brilliant, it has shaped me, and molded me. Yes, living abroad, traveling to other countries, meeting different people, it will always change you. But really, isn’t that what life’s about?