Although I expected to learn and change a lot during my travels, my knowledge and opinions expanded in ways that I was not prepared for. I knew that I would learn more about the countries that I visited, but did not expect to discover so much about my own country and places I did not see. I feel that I discovered a lot about American culture that I had previously not noticed. Part of my new discovery was derived from contrast between American and European culture; things that seemed strange forced me to ask why they did. The answers were often surprising and led to some unexpected realizations.
It (India) is so vastly different from America that it would be hard to describe it with all its smells, tastes, sounds and experiences. It is a very alive country with noise, crowds of people and problems. On arriving back, the U.S. in comparison seemed a little glossy, a little too convenient and a bit dull. In India I was constantly bombarded by sights both shockingly hideous and amazingly beautiful.
What did this trip mean to me? That is a question that I will be answering for the rest of my life, as my interpretation of the experience evolves and a knowledge of myself grows… I have realized a growing sense that my life is an adventure, not just while I am traveling, but every single day. It is full of challenges and decisions and we have a choice in how we meet these challenges. We can plod along fatalistically, believing that someone else is "pulling the strings", or we can search for creative, elegant solutions to our daily problems… I feel that, overall, I am proud of who I was and the decisions that I made on this trip… I must now infuse my Chapel Hill life with this knowledge of self-determination.
Well, I did miss the NCAA championship game and celebration… My absence from the UNC victory and festivities, however, was insignificant compared to my many adventures and friendships experienced during seven months in Europe: helping Pedros pull fishnets into his little rowboat of the Greek island of Santorini; horseback riding with Gretty and Silvia Obladey in the Andalusian countryside of southern Spain; and sharing hot tea and stories with Seamus Houlihan, a 73 year old Gaelic man, in his farm house on the coast of Ireland… My encounters with the peoples of Europe was the most rewarding aspect of traveling… These friendships exposed me to incredible diversity (ethnic, social, religious, political, economical and cultural) giving me a more informed world image/perspective. Also, these differences became a reference point with which to reanalyze my own society and self.
Another goal I accomplished was achieving a greater sense of self reliance. Traveling alone in a foreign country gave me an enormous sense of independence. Everything I accomplished was my own doing…
I met too many people who resisted eating a good meal or touring a museum because they were overly concerned about their budget. Save the Big Mac and fries for your homecoming meal and try the tortellini and the wiener schnitzel. Budget traveling is not a crusade, it is the time to experience as much foreign culture, food and sights as you can.
This trip gave me an opportunity to see how hospitable strangers can be… I would like to sincerely thank the Phillips Travel Scholarship Committee for giving me the chance to travel in Europe. It is an experience I will never forget.
It is difficult to boil down the entire three month experience (travel through Russia and Eastern Europe) to one truism, one saying which could express the experiences I had and the many things I learned about the countries I went to, the things I had been taught, of what I thought I knew, of the many things I didn’t know. I suppose that is the point. This paper, this monstrosity, cannot express all that perhaps it should… Such a Scholarship, I think, is a wise investment, and I believe, and hope the Committee believes, that my part of it has been well spent.
I could not begin to express what I got out of my travel. Besides wonderful first hand experiences with antiquities, I feel that I was able to achieve my "personal" goals. I know for certain that I am now much more self reliant and self confident. I feel that I have a much greater capacity to manage the unexpected. I have also improved my ability to coalesce information to make decisions which is sure to help my leadership skills. Finally my trip has really helped me get ready for medical school. I feel that I have a greater appreciation for differences in opinion, lifestyle, personal values and what can be important to people in their lives.
All in all, I feel that I greatly benefited from my trip to Venezuela. Sometimes I was afraid and a little homesick but for the most part I truly enjoyed myself and I found the trip to be an eye-opening experience. I believe that it made me a stronger person in that it was a challenge for me to leave my home and my family and immerse myself for over a month in a place where the people were of a different culture and language.
Traveling alone through Europe for ninety-three days is the beginning of my passport to understanding that human beings are more alike than unlike. I am a better citizen of the world for experiencing other cultures from a first hand perspective… As ethnically and geographically diverse as we are in America, our vastness had made me foreign to the compact multiplicity of different countries, languages and cultures of Europe.
Through the unique experience of a first trip outside my own country, I accomplished many personal and professional goals. I literally lived three months of "first times" that leave me both overwhelmed and insightful. The contrast between my expectations drawn from the literature about the region and my actual experiences gives me a unique insight into the changes in Otavalo in recent years… The summer of 1993, for all that I learned about others and myself, will continue to be one of the most important moments of my life.
It did not sink into me until I reached Greensboro (on the way home). I knew that something large and special had happened to me while I was in Europe. I look at life differently. When some individual says that I cannot do something, I laugh. When someone states that they are bored, this is foreign to me. Because, when I came back, I marveled at the privilege of riding in my car and listening to the radio, driving down a long, deserted road. Travel changes your life… The only way I could describe it was this way to a friend: I have a golden egg inside of me that no one can take away or tarnish. It is full of memories and dreams. I will always have it and it is precious. I removed myself from the familiar and placed myself in the foreign. And, because of this I grew.
I feel that as time passes I will realize more and more concerning what I got out of this adventure. As for right now, my head in a confusing cloud of American culture, I have only two firm statements concerning this question. First, I will never be able to comfortably refer to "Africans" outside of the extremely general sense. The people I met were not Africans, not even Sengalese or Malian. When asked who are you or what are you the response was always "Wolof", "Pulaar" or any of a hundred peoples I encountered. Second and more personally I have developed a confidence in my ability to travel almost anywhere in the world. I no longer have a fear of foreign lands and peoples… If it were not for my experiences in Africa, I never would have dreamed it possible. Now the world truly is open to me.
If I were advising a fellow student who wanted to make a similar trek through Central America, my advice would be simple. Although certain material goods will make a three month trip like this easier, the most important thing to bring with you is intangible – an open mind. A successful traveler is one who is adaptable; one who is receptive to all the new sensations bombarding them. The unhappy traveler is the one who constantly thinks: "…Well, back home we don’t do things this way" or "These people are strange." To me, that is the whole point of traveling: to get away from all that is familiar and safe. A wise friend in Honduras told me the difference between a tourist and a traveler. When a person sees a new kind of tree and says, "This reminds me of home!", he is a tourist. When a person looks at new things and tries to appreciate the differences from his home country, then he has become a traveler.
… I have gained a sense of freedom from this trip… I feel I have the capability to do anything I set my mind to in any aspect of my life. This trip allowed me the confidence to trust myself and to take responsibility for my own actions… I learned not to become disappointed in the face of failure… I overcame the obstacle I encountered and made the best out of the situation that was at hand…
I witnessed the beauty God had created in the landscapes of France and all the architectural beauty man tried to equal in scale. I would venture to say man came fairly close by the spectacle of the Eiffel Tower, the L’Arc de Triomphe and the Gardens of Versailles. I not only saw these grand sights but was able to live within the boundaries of the beauty… In essence, I learned of the beauty of the land and the people and their ideas.
back to the main reports page