Everyone should travel. As a young girl, I went to worlds of the past and worlds of the future, even to worlds which might never exist. However, these trips only took place inside my own mind. Escaping in books allowed me to travel wherever and whenever I chose. My only tangible travel experience included short escapades with my mother to other parts of the U.S. While I valued these opportunities, I dreamed of more.
Many Midwestern people stay close to home even to the ends of their lives. The average person from Dubois, IN travels to Northern Indiana or perhaps to a neighboring state. Most Hoosiers are very proud to have vacationed in Florida. They are content with this limited travel experience. But, I dreamed of seeing the world through my own eyes.
Finally at the age of 20, I left my native country. My first stop was Canada, foreign yet still not a far cry from home. Then, I hopped on a plane flying across the Atlantic, arriving in Frankfurt, Germany. My eyes opened wider than ever before, along with all of my other senses as I stood on the land of my ancestors.
Next, I moved to Strasbourg, France where I chose to study for 5 months. The French culture was exciting and fresh to me. Never before in my life had I felt like such a minority. With no direct ties to French people besides some knowledge of the language and culture, I lived amongst them. Every day brought new experiences, breathing new life into me. But surprisingly, I was surrounded by familiar symbols. The restaurants served mainly Coca-Cola products. A McDonald’s restaurant could be easily found. English names donned the local boutiques. And American television broadcasted liberally on the local French stations. Avoiding this prevalent American influence, I embraced everything French, especially the food!
But distancing myself from American culture allowed me to see even more than the French culture. I also experienced a world perspective, partially due to other foreign exchange students. Daily, I read the national French newspaper “Le Monde” translated “The World.” Even with a French bias, I saw the world and international politics as never before. Above all, I realized the importance of politics, especially viewing the U.S.’s international role. As an American abroad, other foreigners quizzed me about U.S. politics. Understandably, the U.S. is scrutinized by the world. Foreign bias exists throughout the world. But it’s hard to see one’s own bias without traveling outside one’s country. After being outside of the U.S., my perception changed completely.
I always knew I would travel beyond my mind to other parts of the world. Now, I see it as a necessity. Constantly, I look at Americans’ cultural habits as would a foreigner. The common ritual of wearing t-shirts and jeans daily seems arbitrary. Every day I notice a different aspect of American culture that I would not have seen without traveling. By roaming outside my country, I began to understand it from within.
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