Below is a wonderful essay written by one of TLaJ’s favorite guest-bloggers, Jaima. Enjoy!
I grew up in a small town. Actually, I grew up 15 miles outside of a small town. On a farm. In a log house. We did have electricity and indoor plumbing so it wasn’t exactly like Little House on the Prairie (although even now in the 21st century, my parents are trying to figure out how to survive in a high speed world when all they can get out there is very slooooooow dial-up). I didn’t mind it too much though. I didn’t know any different, and I’m kind of a homebody by nature anyway – I prefer staying home and reading books to socializing and shopping. In fact, when I moved to Idaho to go to college that was only the third state I’d ever been to and only the second time I’d been to Idaho. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. First, I had to get out of that small town. After graduating from high school, I took a big first step (at least for me) by moving to Wenatchee and attending Wenatchee Valley College. Neither of my parents had gone to college so I was what we now call a “first generation” college student. It was all new: applications, FAFSA, registration, renting an apartment. And to me Wenatchee was a big town! It was great; I met lots of new friends, took classes in subjects my small high school never had the resources to offer, and survived on less sleep than you’d think would be humanly possible. After getting my AAS degree, I spent a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer at my old grade school helping kids improve their reading skills. Then I moved to Idaho.
Part way through my first year at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa Idaho, I heard that one of the history professors was organizing a three-week study-abroad to Europe in the summer. I had a friend in high school who had vacationed in France with her family one summer, but her parents were doctors. I knew that traveling the world wasn’t completely out of the realm of possibilities - lots of people travel – it just never occurred to me that I could be one of those people. It never occurred to me that I might get the chance to travel. Or, rather, that it wouldn’t be chance. That I might actually make it happen.
I dragged my roommate along to the informational meeting, hoping she’d decide to do it and then would try to talk me into going with her. But she wasn’t really interested – she already had plans for the summer. I didn’t know very many of the other students who were going. And I had heard that this history professor was one of the toughest. The trip was going to cost a lot. I didn’t even speak a foreign language (my high school Spanish was a joke) and how could anyone get around in foreign country if they didn’t speak the language?!
But… I really wanted to go. I wanted to go to the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa and the other famous works of art I studied in my sophomore art history class. I wanted to see the Tuscany countryside that I’d read about in Frances Mayes’ book Under the Tuscan Sun. I wanted to see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos with my own eyes. I wanted to visit castles and cathedrals that were older than almost everything in the United States. A few weeks later, when the deposit was due, my reasons for wanting to go finally outweighed my worries and anxieties. That summer, those three weeks, everything I saw, everything I did made me realize my “realm of possibilities” was much bigger than I could imagine.
If I hadn’t taken that trip in college, I never would have learned that no, you don’t have to speak the language to survive in a foreign country (a smile and few choice words are handy though); you don’t have to know exactly what you’re eating to enjoy a meal (although goat cheese really shouldn’t be added to pizza); and any amount of heat, jet lag, and long lines is totally worth it (especially to finally get to see Michelangelo’s larger-than-life marble sculpture of David).
And if I hadn’t taken that trip I probably would never have traveled to Spain a few years later and stood among the 850 columns topped with red and white striped arches that fill the dimly lit Mezquita Cathedral in Cordoba; or experience iftar, the meal served to break the Ramadan fast, in Marrakesh’s Djemaa el-Fna square in Morocco; or sipped Hungarian wine at a café with views of the evening sun sparkling on the Danube river and Parliament building in Budapest; or kissed the Blarney stone in Ireland; or really learned the difference between a temple and a shrine by walking through the torii-filled Fushimi-inari Taisha shrine complex in Kyoto Japan, or ridden the Demon rollercoaster in Copenhagen's sparkling Tivoli amusement park in Denmark.
And if I hadn’t taken that trip, I would have lived my life without knowing I could do it.