During your school years, you absorb more, learn faster and are more influenced by your environment than you ever will be in any other concentrated period of life. Those precious years are the time to take in as much as you can.
Yet, for 13 years, we spend five days a week in a classroom, in the same environment, with the same people. We only know and understand what exists within the walls of our school, our home and our city.
The classroom is the best place to expand your academic knowledge, but when it comes to learning about life, there is nothing more enriching than travel.
Lying by a pool in a Mexican resort, going to an adventure park in California or shopping the streets of Paris are all fun ways to travel, but for me, travel is about far more. It’s about being accepted into the homes of villagers in Peru, running with local schoolchildren through water houses in Borneo, getting lost in the historic streets of Colombia and volunteering at an orphanage in Brazil.
During fifth grade, my parents took us on a trip to Malaysia. Yes, we stayed at a resort and spent time by the pool, but what I remember about my time there was far more meaningful.
At the beginning of our vacation, I met a girl my age, Hayley, who lived in Dubai. We became great friends and when the trip came to an end, we exchanged addresses and became pen pals.
Over the years, Hayley and I wrote often; I learned about her life in the United Arab Emirates: how she lived, what her school and her friends were like and the challenges she faced in a culture so different from my own. Before that trip, I’d never heard of Dubai, didn’t have any knowledge of the Middle East and my friendship circle consisted of the 15 others in my fifth grade classroom.
Whether it’s the people you meet or the things you see, travel has a unique and profound ability to teach, for one key reason: Instead of being told something, you experience it.
Jump inside the map:
In a classroom, you study geography. When traveling, you pick up a map and get ready to explore a new place. You wander the streets, get lost and stumble upon places you didn’t know existed. You visit museums and churches, take in sights and chat with the locals. You stay a few days, pick up the map again and work out where you’re headed next.
You learn about which countries border each other, where they are in the world, what languages they support, which religions they follow — and you do so because you’re part of it all.
A history lesson like no other:
My traveling experiences drove my interest in world history. Whenever I arrive in a new place, my surroundings inspire me to learn about the history, how it came to be, what shaped the culture, the people and the environment.
Was there a war, famine or plague? Do the locals still follow an ancient tradition? How unaffected are they by the modern world? It’s far more interesting to learn about a country’s history when you’re actually in that country and experiencing it for the first time.
Instead of just reading a bland history book, you can learn as you go and it’s a whole lot more fun.
Not everyone lives the way you do, but we’re all human:
Perhaps one of the most important things I have learned amidst my travel is that my life is entirely different to the life of a young woman in Africa or Asia or South America, but ultimately, we are all similar on the inside.
I’ve met girls my age who live in huts on grass islands in Bolivia, apartments in Paris and favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Our lives are so entirely different, but I learned that we wanted similar things: family, friends, health, happiness, opportunity and freedom.
The hardest thing is to leave a place knowing that despite the same drive for these basic desires, some of us will easily find them, while others will never get the chance due to the lives into which they were born.
Travel — and the people you meet along the way — will always teach you more than you could possibly imagine and also make you a better person. You will want to contribute to change and appreciate nature more. You will get a better sense of adventure than you could possibly imagine; you will develop a thirst to see and experience more — and believe me, you will learn.
When you experience what’s outside of the walls of your school, your home and your city, you will also appreciate the life you were given within those walls to a much higher degree.
Photo via Tumblr