The title says it all. I’ve been abroad, and I am still the same person. I could even throw an expletive in there. I am the same. F*cking. Person.
This might not be news to a lot of you, but I feel I need to address the general blogging/Pinterest/Instagram/millennial community. Anyone who uses social media is barraged by quotes and essays on travel changing you, why you should travel, "TRAVEL TRANSFORMED ME," etc.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
“To travel is to live.”
“I Don’t Travel Because My Life is Mediocre, I Travel Because It Grows Me.”
“Why My Obsession With Travel Means I’m Living An Extraordinary Life.”
“7 Things Backpackers Learn To Appreciate”
Those are just a smattering of quotes and essay titles I’ve seen online. I won’t lie. Before I ~*traveled*~, I might have clicked “Like” while still rolling my eyes. But now all I can do is roll my eyes. Especially because I’ve done it, and it’s a big, fat lie. (Okay, maybe not fat. Though Danish hot dogs are pretty fattening.)
Don’t get me wrong. Travel is great. I am by no means divorcing myself from future adventures abroad. I am going to the Netherlands next week and Qatar in October. You can call me “well-traveled” (that’s sarcasm). But stop telling me, and everyone else, that you can’t live without leaving the U.S. Or that if you don’t travel, you’re so much more inferior.
None of those quotes or essays says that so bluntly, but we can read between the lines (“the less traveled are ignorant fundamentalists without even casting a vote for Donald Trump”).
I grew up always wanting to travel. Since tenth grade I have wanted to join the Peace Corps and live abroad. And I did not go abroad until the age of 24, but even before I went abroad, I told everyone and their hamster that I would live abroad. And, having gone abroad, I still stick to my words. But I’m still writing this essay.
I decided to go abroad after, having lived *so* long without ever seeing Europe, I bought a plane ticket on a whim (an actual whim) and went to Copenhagen by myself for spring break. (That’s in Denmark for those so uncultured to have never been abroad that they might not know where Copenhagen is.) And here I am. I’m back in the U.S. I’m still mortal. I’m not even a socialist.
No lie, one of my first reactions upon landing in Iceland (my layover and technically first time on foreign soil) was, “I don’t feel like I’ve left the U.S.” And then in Copenhagen: “Oh my gosh, the skies can be gray here, too?! I really don’t feel like I’m in another country.”
Yeah, the architecture was different, and I took a picture of everything I passed for about three miles (me: I will never see this block of houses again!), but then – and wait for it – I saw Deloitte headquarters.
The emblem of corporate America.
The place that hired just about everyone I went to college with.
I don’t even know what Deloitte does – consulting?? – but what is it doing here in Copenhagen? Isn’t this another country?
Oh my gawd, I’m in another country, and it feels like I’m not.
Besides jet lag, currency, and the occasional foreign dialect, what is that different? We all breathe air. We all eat food. Okay, I am simplifying. But getting on a plane and seeing someone who lives under a different political system or who eats whale or who passes the Leaning Tower of Pisa every day on their way to work is not finding out you have cancer. It is not a parent’s death. It is not a newborn in your arms.
In fact, being in a different country is closer to being in a different American city. Think of an Eastern Seaboarder going to the Midwest. Surprise, your life does not suddenly make more sense. A sense of purpose does not materialize around you. In fact, humidity might be materializing around you. Try Thailand for instance.
My biggest change as a person after having ~*seen the world*~ is recognizing my privilege. Having wanted to always travel internationally, I lived under this veil where I assumed most other Americans have been abroad. Since ~*returning*~, I try not to brag that I went to Copenhagen (though it was really cool! I’m not denying that!), but it does come up in conversation. And I have been floored by how many people haven’t been abroad. I hear constantly, “I wish I could do that,” etc.
Me: “You mean, you haven’t been abroad?” Not in a judge-y way, but in a “I thought I was the last one!” way.
So, ATTN: Everyone, stop posting cheesy Pinterest quotes and writing listicles on why you *need* to go to Southeast Asia if you want to be a better person. Sure, you’re going to see things you don’t see here in America and have conversations with foreigners, but this doesn’t up your intellect or wisdom. (It might up your credit card bill, though.)
If you get the chance to travel, you should. But don’t go traveling and expect to ~*find yourself*~. The people who travel, alone or in groups, generally already *found themselves* before they took that photo of the waterfall with the quote caption attributed to "Anonymous."
Instead, expect 2,000 extra photos on your phone, most of which are duplicates because one of those shots of the Taj Mahal Instagram has to be Facebook-worthy, right? Or maybe this angle?
Experience is a lot of things. It doesn’t have to be foreign.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to Instagram #ThrowbackThursdays of my time in Copenhagen.