One of my first memories is of my parents reading me the stories of “Peter Pan” and “Robin Hood.” Even now, I strive to keep those stories of courage, adventure, and endless possibilities alive in my own life.
So with almost no planning nor prior experience, I traveled the world in 80 days, thanks to the generosity of Hillsdale, my parents, and the summers spent slaving away in the Texas sun. In the span of a few months, I traveled from Jerusalem to Washington D.C. to New York City to Iceland to Oxford University to Edinburgh to Munich to Vienna to Florence to Paris. You get the idea. Almost completely on my own. Though I traveled in groups during a few of my trips, I mostly trotted across the globe by myself with just my camera, credit card, and a list of things to see. And I would do it all again: There’s something special and invaluable about discovering the world on your own.
There’s a particularly unique experience in Rome that comes to mind: I stayed at an adorable, tiny hostel on the outskirts of the city. My humble host, a sweet 40-year old lady named Roberta, made me feel welcome in the sprawling streets of Italy’s largest city. Not only did she offer helpful tips to local food joints and grocery markets, but she also cooked an amazing meal for her guests and we sang songs around the living room table till 2 a.m. This memory, along with countless others, offered a special enlightenment: every place and every person is filled with different stories, and life is filled with lessons to learn.
As fun as traveling for days on end sounds, I shared my forms of struggles. For me, it’s not easy being independent, and traversing the world alone was challenging. Although I pride myself on being spontaneous and adventurous, I do enjoy spending time with people, and the longer I was by myself, the longer the train rides seemed and the harder maneuvering around cities appeared. But whether it was losing my wallet in the middle of Switzerland, catching a 4 a.m. train in Padua, Italy, or wandering through the streets of Paris with a dead phone, I look back and laugh at how silly it all was. But these moments of chaos also brought a prolonged senses of quiet and peace in the Austrian plains, the mountains of the Swiss alps, or the stucco homes of the Italian countryside. These were the moments I learned to reexamine and ask myself: What is wonder, or culture, or beauty?
As college students, we are called to learn deeply and grow together. But it wasn’t until I left Hillsdale’s campus that I discovered that my education was fully actualized when I applied it to the world beyond Central Hall. Studying abroad or travelling alone isn’t for everyone, but it’s important to remember that there’s a world we have no idea about, and stories and cultures we have never heard of. Through my own journey, I learned that we cannot be fully human if we don’t try to see the world and the beauty that lies before us. Whether it’s in your small midwestern town, the streets of Washington D.C., or even in the halls of the Oxford colleges, never take your journey for granted and learn to see the world as it is.
As human beings, we are all storytellers, eager to share our experiences with others. Don George from National Geographic puts it perfectly when he says, “In order to write deeply, you have to live deeply. This means that your primary mission as a storyteller is to see keenly, taste keenly, hear keenly, smell keenly, feel keenly.” This doesn’t just apply to writing. To live well, we must experience the world around us. And the best way to do that is to get out and go do it.