Do you ever really think about what or who inspired your desire to travel? For part of my job, I read and critique scholarship applications for study abroad students. Frequently the essay question is “Why do you want to study abroad?” It is generally answered with one or all of the following cliches: “I want to immerse myself in culture,” or “I want to travel the world,” or the worst, “I want to broaden my horizons.” If I’ve heard these responses once, I’ve heard them a thousand times. I always want to grab the student’s shoulders, shake them and say “Why do you REALLY want to do this?”
Of course advising others has made me REALLY think about my own honest answer to what inspired my desire to travel. When I think back to what sparked my own interest, I believe I have these people to thank:
- My next door neighbors – I grew up on a street in Minneapolis that was inhabited by mostly retirees. Walt and Phyllis lived next door and frequently babysat me when my mom went back to school. They were avid travelers and would regularly take me with them to the travel agency where I was allowed to take out all the catalogs and look through the pictures. They also always brought be back a trinket and coins from every place they went. It took me a long time to realize what an influence they had on me from such an early age.
- Hun Win, my childhood best friend – She lived across the street and her family immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan. I will never forget the smell of Asian cooking that constantly permeated their home, how Hun Win would alterate between Mandarin and English so swiftly, and just how disciplined her and her brother were with finishing home and practicing the piano. It was my first experience with another culture and I was drawn to how different her home was to mine.
- Sra. Strauss, my high school Spanish teacher – I remember speaking jibberish as a kid pretending it was another language; I loved the idea of knowing a language other than my own. Sra. Strauss helped turn my jibberish into something useable. She exposed me to language and culture with patience, humor, and love. While I was never very good at Spanish, I have to say that what she taught me in high school has actually gotten me by quite a few times.