I believe this world must be experienced to be fully understood. I believe I must travel in order to appreciate its wonders. I believe I must learn about the places I travel to before I ever set foot on a plane; however, I also believe that no amount of studying can truly prepare me for the real experience. I have traveled for the entirety of my life, but my belief is new. In fact, it wasn’t until last May, when my dad took me to Scotland, that I realized my belief.
It was the first time that I had traveled to Europe and my excitement was unwavering. In preparation for my departure, I studied books, travel guides, maps and websites that would give me insight into the secrets of Scotland. I even watched movies and TV specials to try to get a glimpse of the world I was about to discover. From the geography of the land to the history of the culture, nothing was going to take me by surprise, but I could not have been more wrong.
The majority of the time I spent in Scotland, I just kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I’m here.” The pictures I had seen before leaving did no justice to the reality of what I was seeing after arriving. My books had taught me about the people, the history, the traditions and the monarchy, but Scotland was so much more. If I had trusted that what I had studied would teach me everything, I would have continued to live my life believing that Scotland was just like any other country and that Scottish society was simple and boring. From my first-hand experience, I learned that Scotland is rich in history and mythology and that the Scots comprise a rustic and timeless civilization, one that must be experienced to be fully understood.
After I returned to the states, I tried to describe to my friends and family the truths of what I learned in Europe. I described the beauty of the Highlands as they cascaded over the country, the majesty of the castles after hundreds of years standing in ruins, and the pungent smell of Scotch whiskey after it has been fermenting for 75 years in a hand-built, oak cask, but no one could quite understand. I soon realized that no matter how hard I tried, I could not communicate the magnificence of the culture in any amount of words or pictures. Afterward, I decided that the inability to put experiences into words was common to everyone. I easily recalled moments, throughout all of my life, when listening to someone else’s recollection of an event was never anything like being able to experience the same thing for myself. So although I believe that books and maps and pictures are useful resources for learning about the wonders of this world, nothing compares to experiencing it first-hand.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.