I recently posed this question to my class of 13 JMU students as we neared the end of our 18 day, short-term study abroad class in Sweden and Denmark. Eighteen days may not look like much time on the calendar, but it’s jam-packed with novel and challenging experiences: sleeping four to a room, learning public transportation in a foreign city, coping with jet lag, living out of a suitcase, trying new foods, considering new ideas, and being very, very far from home. Plus, several of the students had never traveled internationally before, and most had never done so on their own.
So, if they were to stop and reflect, important insights were right there for the taking.
Here are some of my favorite responses to this question:
“I’ve learned that I love the challenge of getting to know a new place without the help of maps or cell service. It forces you to talk to locals to get help and to get lost in order to find new sights/attractions.”
“I’m much more adventurous than I thought I was. I realized I’m very open to new experiences.”
“I love to travel by local transportation rather than renting a car because it immerses you in the life of the local people of the country you’re visiting. It’s a way to see the people, but also see the sights without the worry of driving a car.”
“The more I try to hold onto a special moment, the less present I am. It’s okay to enjoy something and then let it go.”
“Exploring and wandering can be the most fun.”
“I need alone time to recharge. And I miss leisure reading–I need to make more time for it at home.”
“I actually really enjoy alone time to frolic and discover new places on my own.”
“I’m much more capable than I give myself credit for! I’m capable of taking care of myself, getting around, making friends with strangers, and dealing with all of the problems that can come up while traveling.”
“I like to spend my days in smaller groups, and I appreciate moving at a more slow, local pace, not rushing off to see all the tourist destinations.”
“After traveling to a different country for the first time, I realize that I like familiarity. There’s a lot to see in the world, but that also includes things at home, and I’m going to take advantage of it!”
“I have so much left to learn. I looked at this trip as a pinnacle and a finish line, but now I know it was just the beginning. There is a world outside to explore and it’ll take time to do it. Now I know that there’s a world to discover inside of me, too. This whole life of ours is a trip, a journey, and I cannot wait to see where mine goes.”
Travel can always teach us something — about the broader world around us, but also about ourselves. Thanks for the memories, you guys…and for the lessons you always manage to teach me.