Dealing with the Now of Travel
The Before is filled with anticipation and anxious excitement, the After is full of memories and reminiscing, but what about the During?
*Confession/disclaimer: Later on in the post I am going to reference Tolkien a bit and a lot of what I am about to argue might seem somewhat silly since its source is a fantasy novel, but hear me out.*
In regards to studying abroad we think a lot about the Before; what is it going to be like and what will we experience? This is largely because the build up to long-term travel can feel like forever and be filled with anxiety and general questioning. Once the year, or more, abroad is over we also think a lot about our time abroad as we reflect and reminisce on it; Remember when we did this? or I can’t believe I actually got to experience that. But really the most important part is the actual travel. The During. Or in my current situation, the Now.
Prior to leaving America, I did not give much thought about what I would be feeling or thinking about during the Now. I imagined it would be filled with too much school and travel planning to give thought and headspace to other things. Well, as is often the case, I was wrong. There has been plenty of time to question things while studying abroad. What should I be feeling while I am here? Is this what I wanted? Am I getting enough out of my time abroad? Should I be doing more? What am I really hoping to get from studying abroad? Is it just learning another language? Or is there more?
I do not have the answers to all of these questions, but what I have tried to focus on during the Now is why I wanted to study abroad in the first place. At times it was more of a feeling that I struggled to put into words, but what I have come up with is something along the lines of this: I believe that the world is more interesting than what I have already experienced. I hope and pray that I will have the opportunity and mindset to discover what it has to offer. I want to challenge myself to think beyond what I already know and have already thought. I want to experience a new “perhaps”.
Inspiration can come in strange forms. Lately, while reflecting on my initial motivation and thinking about the Now, my mind keeps going back to the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ever since I was a child one of my favorite books has been The Hobbit. I realize it is generally classified as fantasy, which it is, but The Hobbit is also a travel narrative. You might have seen the three recent films (which in my humble opinion were quite terrible, and I’m gonna be that guy and point out that the book is better, like a lot better), but regardless, a major theme in both is the Beauty and Trial of Adventure.
If you are reading this post, then it is likely that you have seen the classic travel quote, “Not all those who wander are lost”. Sound familiar? It’s actually from The Lord of the Rings. In fact, Tolkien’s writings are filled with some incredible inspirational travel quotes. Here are a few examples from The Hobbit that strongly relate to travel:
“The world is not in your books and maps, it’s out there.”
Gandalf tells this to Bilbo before he leaves for his adventure. Leaving behind what is already known and comfortable, facing the risks and trials of travel, with everything positive and negative they bring, can feel daunting. However, it is necessary if you really want to experience more than what you already know.
Taking a year off from the American college experience and studying abroad is a bold move, and there will be challenges; ones that you have planned for and ones that you have not. Questions and crises of identity will arise. Things are going to be different; culture shock is a real thing. The normal routine you developed at home or college will be gone and things might get so uncomfortably different that you start to believe you’ve lost your self-identity. But you haven’t. Don’t think about it as losing your identity in a new land. Instead, think of it as gaining a new one while still keeping the old.
“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”
I had forgotten about this one until a recent re-read and it has been important as I think about the Now of travel. We are all looking for something in life, whether it be while studying abroad or not, but if we do not actively go out and look we will never find it, whatever it may be.
“Go back? No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!”
When discouraged or confused about what direction your next step should be, have faith that what you are doing is the right thing. I have found that going backwards typically only leads to more confusion, or sometimes even regret.
A few months ago, when I was trying to make the decision to study abroad or not, I would tell people that I was thinking about it. Their responses helped sway my decision. Usually they replied with something like, “That has always been something I regret not doing when I was young and in college.” I don’t want to say this later in my life. After college, the responsibilities and the expectations really ramp up. You should have a job, you should have your own house, you should get married, you should have kids. However, that assembly line mentality is blind to many opportunities and life experiences. I’m fine with putting off adult responsibilities if it means I won’t regret experiencing the world when I am young.
“Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure . . .
Bilbo: We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …
Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.
Bilbo: Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same.”
This dialogue speaks to our natural desire of remaining as we are. Change is uncomfortable and often stressful. We don’t like being uncomfortable or stressed, so why should we actively seek it out? But complacency is just as dangerous. Once we get the urge to embark on an adventure to study abroad, our family and friends may be hesitant to see us go because adventure is usually not without risk.
The world is not a safe place and 2016 has seemingly done everything it can to add to that fear. Personally, my mom was very hesitant to let me travel abroad to Germany, especially after many recent terrorist attacks in Munich and around the country. And she was right, I couldn’t argue with her.
But if you want to challenge yourself to think beyond what you already know and have already thought, to see what you have not already seen and experience new things and cultures, what choice do you have but to accept the dangers of the world and set out in spite of them?
Much of this post was introspective and related to myself, but I hope maybe at least one or two points resonated with you and your past, present, and future travels.