They say the best way to learn about your own country is to leave it. Three friends and I recently returned from a trip around the world that not only taught us about our country, but also supplied us with the most touching and unforgettable experiences we could have ever imagined.
From Asia to Australia, to New Zealand and the Fiji Islands, each stop filled us with memories to last a lifetime and opened our minds to another way of life.
Here are the five things I learned from my round-the-world trip:
Music is a universal language.
Arriving in Vietnam — a country and culture so far from our own and so distant from anything we knew —, we embraced new feelings as our adventure began. In an almost celebratory fashion, we spent our first night in a local backpackers bar. Culture shock began to ease as music filled its place.
Color didn’t matter and neither did size, shape or place of origin. All that anyone cared about was the music that created this universal togetherness between strangers from all over the world. The music acted as a language that made dialogue of no importance at that point in time.
We were coming together like old friends as we danced the night away. Music was the universal language that united us, even if only for one night.
Simple conversations are beautiful.
I learned this the day I had a conversation with the wealthiest man in Cambodia. We had just left a local Cambodian club to which one of the locals had taken us. Stepping into a tuk-tuk (one of the most common forms of transport in Asia), we decided to stop off for some food.
We invited our driver inside the restaurant with us and offered him a burger, as he had gone out of his way to find us a place to eat. He was a slim man who had worn out shoes and clothes.
He had spent his adult life driving tuk-tuks to provide for his family — his wife and two children.
As we exchanged notes on cultures and countries, he started to explain why he was the luckiest and wealthiest man in Cambodia: "I still have both of my parents," he told us as we listened, hanging on to each word he spoke. He explained that after the war in Cambodia, many people died and many children lost their parents.
Here was this man who drove a tuk-tuk, lived a very basic life with little money and was one of the most grateful of men I ever had the pleasure to meet. He was far from wealthy, but he was rich in love.
Everyone you meet can inspire you in some way.
We were in Fraser Island, Australia on a three-day camping trip. We sat around, anxiously waiting for the rest of the group to turn up and pondered what they would be like. The truck pulled up and one lady in particular stood out to me.
She was in her fifties, alone and I noticed she was wearing a wedding ring. We had met a lot of lone travelers, but for some reason, I found this lady especially intriguing.
Camped out on the beach, the group sat under the most mesmerizing night sky I had ever seen in my life and we told our life stories. Finally, I had the chance to speak with Wendy.
We started to talk and she explained that she told her husband and children that she had lived her life and had her career, but still had a dream on her list that she hadn't yet accomplished. Her dream was to swim the Great Barrier Reef, which is what brought her to Australia.
She inspired me for so many reasons: She reminded me that age doesn’t matter when it comes to satisfying life goals and that it is just as important to make yourself happy as it is to make your loved ones happy. Wendy taught me the importance in fully living your life for yourself.
Appreciating the finer things.
Our last stop was Mana Island in Fiji. The island was very small and there was only electricity at nighttime. We stayed in huts with other travelers and locals, and we had to take cold showers in the dark. We had no phones or Internet connection; it was just us on this magical island.
We visited the only school on the island where locals relied on people to volunteer as teachers. The women looked after the children while the men provided food by catching fish. These people led such simplistic lives, yet seemed to be the happiest and friendliest people I have ever known.
They had each other, love, food, water and shelter. They had such a strong sense of community that provided them with everything they needed. This experience led me to appreciate the finer things in life.
Some people are just assh*les.
This seemingly negative lesson offered a silver lining, too: We were making our way to get some food and crossed paths with a man who had a problem with the fact that my friends and I are an interracial friendship group.
He decided to express his ridiculously barbaric thoughts about it by mumbling comments to his friends, in a tone of voice that was loud enough for us to hear.
Outraged by his ignorance, I calmly approached him. He was an aggressive man who was stuck in his own ways and had past the point of reason. We walked away thankful that we were raised with a very different mindset about people.
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