Do You Need International Experience?
Gaining international experience is important in understanding different life styles, cultures, and helps you grasp a whole new perspective of the world around you. My first experience abroad came when I was eleven. My older brother Owen had just graduated from high school, and as a gift, my parents took the family to Europe for a month. In that one month traipsing through Europe, I learned so much more than I had in one year at a posh private school.
I learned more French ordering baguettes and croissants in the markets of Paris than I had with my French teacher back home. Learned more math converting Euros and Pounds to dollars than a whole year of fill in the bubble tests. Learned more about ancient civilizations wandering the streets of Rome than history classes. And even more than that, I learned that there’s a whole world around me. My mom caught onto that. She left us at real school for a couple more years. Contemplating. Wondering. Knowing she could do better. And four years ago, she made the bold decision to homeschool my sister and me. Her goal: for us to see the world. Since then, we’ve traveled to 40 different countries spanning 5 continents. And counting.
I’m 15 years old now, and have such a different perspective of the world. When I’m home and hanging with friends, I really notice it. I’m on the road as I write this piece, currently somewhere in the Gulf of Finland between St. Petersburg, Russia and Finland’s capital, Helsinki. Before I left in May, my friends would ask, "Austin! Do you have summer plans?" I would look at them and smile excitedly. I’d tell them we’d be on the road for a just under four months, and spending a month in both New York City and Paris. I’d tell them about our plans to spend time in Riga, Latvia, and Stockholm, Sweden, and Reykjavik, Iceland, and the cruise that’d take us to ports of Russia, Norway, Finland, The Netherlands, and Denmark. And then I’d add, "Oh yeah. We’re also spending ten days in Disney World and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”
Their reactions? “What?! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter?! Gah! You’re so lucky!”
It’s not that my friends are stupid. They’re all really smart people who I love to bits. But deciding they want to explore the likes of Croatia and Turkey or participating in an immersion program to Cartagena, Colombia is not at the top of their lists.
I believe an international experience benefits all walks of life. There’s no right way to travel either. If you can get out there, do it. Even if it is only a seven day cruise through the Bahamas or a company retreat to London. You’re adding another dimension to your world in doing so.
Meet Powell Berger, aka, Mom. She is a woman of many talents, including traveling and being an amazingly cool mother and teacher. I asked her about travel and international experiences.
How has traveling abroad changed your life?
It has really opened my eyes to new cultures and ways of life. It has taught me that not everything has to be a certain way.
Do you love to travel, and if so, what’s the best part? The worst part?
When traveling with friends or family, it makes your relationship with that person stronger. Tackling the uncharted waters with people you love is always fun. Making friends with people around the world is so enriching. I know it’s such a cliché, but through traveling, I’ve discovered that even though we come from all corners of the globe, and live all different walks of life, we’re all alike.
The worst part for me has to be the ugly American. The person who travels abroad but doesn’t adapt to the place and culture. And secondly, navigating the whole tourist propaganda, to find the truly enlightening and rich cultural experiences.
When you come home, what are some of the biggest differences you notice?
When coming home, I’ve changed, but the people around me haven’t. We’re all so dependent on cars for transportation. We live differently. Even the shopping. Americans go to the store and stock up on food for a couple of weeks. When we travel, we tend to gravitate to the large open air markets, with produce so fresh it still has dirt on it. We’ll buy that night’s meal, and maybe for the following night’s. I like that.
Do you feel as though you’ve gained anything from traveling? A broader perspective? Knowledge? A better understanding of the world?
I’ve gained a better knowledge of myself, and a different perspective. I’ve learned to laugh at myself, I’ve learned that the Germans hate me, and I’ve gained friendships that span the globe.
Is there one particular memory that stands out from your travels? Destinations, events, people, etc?
When we visited Hawaii the very first time. I remember driving back from the grocery store. It was sunset, and the colors were reflected on the water. Braddha Iz played on the radio. Coming from post 9/11 DC, I looked over the water and cried, thinking we really could live here. And a year later, I had sand between my toes, living in a sleepy little beach town.
The other memory that stands out to me vividly was in Lunag Prabang, Laos, or just LP. Getting up at sunrise and giving elephants a bath in the mist blanketed Mekong River. It truly was an amazing experience I will never forget.
Powell Berger, mother of three children, and mother of many more ‘adopted’ children across the world. She’s traveled to 40 countries and counting.
Austin Weihmiller is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program.
All photos courtesy and copyright Austin Weihmiller