Lydie Lake: Going beyond the dictionary definition of travel
I must admit, I have been living vicariously through my best friend for the past two weeks as she embarked on a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. Attempting to soak in every picture she sends my way, I have indulged in her images of beautiful flower markets, chai tea lattes, art pieces, and streets upon streets filled with rows of identical housing. I marvel at the images and thank her for them, yet I can’t help but long to physically be there.
From a young age, I have had a lust for travel. Certainly, Disney World is always a reliable place to spark that passion for young children, despite the tantrum I once threw after suddenly despising my brand new, custom-made Mickey ears.
After a couple of trips to Disney, however, my family shifted gears and sought out destinations marked with deeper history and culture. Visiting places like New York City, Charleston, Boston, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., sparked a passion for travel that remains today.
These trips opened my eyes to the importance of learning about history, cultures and lifestyles of the people not only in our country, but across the world. Before I stepped in New York City, I lacked knowledge of the high poverty levels. Prior to visiting New Orleans, I was completely unaware of the Creole culture and lifestyle. Each trip has brought me closer and closer to interpreting the diverse populations that make our states united. I’ve come to understand that travel has the power to diminish ignorance, but only if one travels with an open mind and an intent to learn.
Sure, I long to sit at a cozy café in Copenhagen, but what I truly want is to learn about the people. Why do they prioritize bike-riding? What is so significant about “The Little Mermaid” statue? Why are the chai lattes so much better there? Thanks to study abroad, my best friend’s sister was able to introduce her family to not only the beautiful country of Denmark, but also the answers to these questions.
As a senior preparing for college come fall, study abroad programs are a top priority within my college search. Being provided an opportunity to travel, appreciate various cultures, communicate through language barriers, and endure a life-changing experience can only make your education richer, so why wouldn’t you take the opportunity?
I once prepared a speech in a communication class with the sole purpose of persuading my audience to study abroad. To strengthen my argument, I interviewed a student attending Minnesota State University Mankato about her experience studying in Dublin, Ireland. She described her infatuation with the culture, the people, and the history of Ireland that grew while living there for only four months. After an exchange of questions and answers, she closed the conversation by saying: “It was a vital experience to get me to where and who I am today.”
Among the topics less talked about within these programs, on the other hand, is the presence of culture shock. Although inevitable, many study abroad students do not anticipate the shock, yet will become exposed to emotions of anxiety and feelings of unfamiliarity in their new environment. As I stated earlier, I feel that travel rids the lack of knowledge in an area, so to fade the shock a student must be observant, soaking in the cultures, lifestyles, and norms that surround them.
Tenaciously, I have studied the benefits rewarded and the perspectives gained from study abroad programs; however, I am certain I will not understand the vitality to it until I find myself across the ocean — hopefully in Europe — for a semester.
As I recoup with my best friend, I will sit in awe of the unseen photographs and mementos she has collected, but I won’t forget to question the stories behind these objects.
Lydie Lake is a senior at Byron High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters, email@example.com.