This I Believe

Jayna - Novelty, Ohio
Entered on January 22, 2008

I believe that traveling and exploring new parts of the world helps individuals to become more tolerant and accepting of others. Exposure to different cultures allows people to expand their knowledge and learn new traditions and lifestyles, and by experiencing different kinds of lifestyles, one can learn different values.

Roughly one year ago, I traveled through Ecuador with a friend who knows people all over the world. Through one of her connections, we somehow found a wonderful family to stay with for three weeks. I went there with the intentions of seeing volcanoes, the ocean, the rainforest, and also to meet new people. I did not anticipate the knowledge I would gain from my experience there. I soon learned that the people surrounding us had a much different value of family than what was familiar to me. As much as I cherish my family, these Ecuadorian people made it their number one priority to build strong (and very large) families. They did everything together including social activities as well as meals and education, and the families all lived in the same neighborhood. I soon realized that their high regard for family was not even a conscious decision, but more an innate part of their lives.

Traveling can also help individuals strengthen their identity and learn about their past. I recently went to Israel for ten days, on a completely free trip (via “Taglit-Birthright”). I was thrilled when I heard about the program, and I had heard that, for most people, the trip is a life-changing event. Well it was. I learned about unfamiliar politics and geography, and explored through a land that felt more like my home than anywhere else I had visited. I do not consider myself to be a religious person at all, but being Jewish and learning the history of my people there gave me a sense of belonging. If everyone had the opportunity to visit their roots, we might all develop a stronger sense of identity.

It is truly unfortunate that I do not speak Spanish or Hebrew. Although at one time this seemed like a disadvantage, I do believe that those language barriers helped me to develop strong conversational skills. When I did not understand those native languages, I became more perceptive of other communication clues. My awareness of tone of voice, expression, and body language helped me to communicate with others. Even when verbalized conversation was possible, I was still aware of these other clues so that I would fully understand what was being said. I now find myself to be a better listener and more attentive, even when I am speaking with someone in English.

After returning from my travels, I have come to realize that I don’t just cherish my time abroad, but I also value the lessons that I have learned and I do find that I carry them with now. Just from my personal experiences, I have learned a whole new value of family, I have become more aware of my identity, and I have developed stronger communication skills. My experiences abroad were valued during the moment, and looking back, it is easy to see that they have helped shape me into a very open-minded and accepting person. It seems that I am running out ideas of cheap ways to travel, but I will continue to work on it and find more options, since I truly believe that each experience makes me a bit better of a person.