Seeing Things Differently

Taylor - Buffalo, New York
Entered on September 3, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe it is important to travel to other countries and experience other cultures. In my lifetime, I have been to 14 different countries across 5 of the continents. The trips I have gone on have ranged from typical tropical vacation destinations like Mexico and Costa Rica to rustic experiences in Botswana and Ecuador. Traveling to these various countries as I was growing up allowed me to put into perspective how we live here in America. I met people from all different backgrounds whose lives were completely different from my own and was able to find common ground between us. I am pleased that my parents instilled their love of travel into me at such an early age because it has truly changed the way I have looked at the world and my life.

When I was ten, I left the country for the first tine to go to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. My parents were intrigued with the unique wildlife that the islands are known for and were anxious to see it for themselves. My sister and I were thrilled to go along and began researching all the species of animals we would be seeing that only exist on these islands. What we saw amazed us more than we could have imagined. Giant Tortoises, Blue-Footed Boobies, tropical penguins and iguanas covered the islands. What surprised us even more then all of the wildlife was the way everyone respected the islands and kept it as natural as possible. Only 5 of the 13 islands are inhabited and the rest are kept in the best condition possible. In the U.S. you expect to see trash on the side of the road, along forest paths, and buried in the sand on beaches. It was a shock to see an environment so pure, and see the true beauty of nature. The culture in Ecuador and the Galapagos islands is based around conservation and respect of nature. I was grateful to dive into this distinctive culture at such a young age and see how other cultures make it possible to live in harmony with their surroundings.

One of my strongest memories of another culture comes from when my family went to China. The main purpose of the trip was to see the Yangtze River and specifically the Three Gorges area before it was flooded. However we spent a lot of time on the trip in the major cities of China including Beijing and Shanghai. During this time I got the opportunity to see into the daily lives of the Chinese citizens. Walking through crowded Chinese cities the differences between how they live compared to Americans were numerous. These cities were comparable to large U.S. cities like Chicago or Boston but the attitude was very different. Yes, they were crowded and some areas were pretty filthy, but the people were so generous. They were thrilled to see Americans and even more happy to meet me, a young American girl with dirty blonde hair and brown eyes. I was constantly stopped on the street and people would ask where I was from and take pictures with me.. Many of these people had hard lives and yet they were so happy to stop in the middle of their day and talk to tourists! I was happy to give them details about the United States but enjoyed the details they told us about their lives even more.

I am very fortunate to have experiences in other countries and cultures. I have been to 14 different countries across 5 of the continents and that seems like a lot to me, until I consider that there are 195 countries in the world. Henry Miller thought that, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” I realize that I have many other places I wish to go in the world and many new ways of really seeing things left to discover.