Gaining perspective through travel

A view of Florence during Eastern Michigan’s Study Abroad Mediterranean Cultural History this summer.

Well, it’s that time again. The beginning of a new school year is upon us and with that comes tasks such as moving into a new place, planning class schedules and, of course, the always fun job of buying text books. But before I start thinking about all these aspects, I want to reflect on what I did this summer. As I think all of you should.

I spent five weeks traveling through Italy and Greece this summer. I have to tell you, there is nothing like walking out of the metro station after arriving in Venice and seeing the vibrantly colored buildings lining the calm waters of the canals. For me, that was my “Wizard of Oz” moment, when I realized I really wasn’t in the United States anymore.

As I traveled through the countries, I learned and experienced a lot. I also came to an important conclusion: everyone should travel outside of the country at some point. The sights I saw and the activities I did were great, but they aren’t the reason I feel this way.

You hear things about how people live differently in other places, but it can’t be fully understood until it’s witnessed. Experiencing these differences can make you look at the world you live in a bit differently. It can also make you think about what you take for granted and how you live your life.

Here are some examples.

Restaurants in Europe operate differently than they do here. First of all, water is not brought to you for free. It’s actually quite expensive. And you can forget about free refills.

Also, when you sit down at a table, you pay a cover charge and the table becomes yours for as long as you want. Some people will sit at one table for hours, and the bill is not brought until you ask. It’s a much more leisurely experience than what we are used to in America.

In many areas throughout Italy there is less of a focus on driving and more of a focus on public transportation and walking. In the city areas especially I saw a lot fewer cars, built up public transportation systems, and many people using their feet as their main way to get places. They seemed to be healthier because of this, and also, of course, because they cook everything with olive oil.

The emphasis on leisure was made very clear to me in Greece when a Laundromat opened fifteen minutes later than scheduled. This is a normal thing, because there, everyone runs on Mediterranean time, which is a more leisurely life style.

The point in all of this is that experiencing the way other cultures do things helps you to understand them better, but also to reflect on your own life. I would like to live a more leisurely life like I did in Europe, and I was never so happy to see a glass of water brought to me as I was the first time I went to a restaurant upon arriving home.

There were so many differences between Europe and the United States. Many restaurants didn’t have air conditioning, a lot of the toilets didn’t have seats, you can haggle on prices at stores and they don’t check your ticket on buses.

Alone, these things may not mean much, but put them together and you will have a better grasp on both cultures, the foreign one as well as your own.

This is why everyone should travel outside of the country at least once, because understanding yourself and others better is a good thing.

So after you think about what you did this summer, think ahead to what you could do next summer.

You could do a study abroad program or simply plan a trip with friends. But I do think it is important for all of you to travel. I think it will be worth it to you. I know it was to me.

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