Musings: On Travel & Living Abroad

I last posted a travel-related musing more than two and a half years ago (though, arguably, all my posts during Peace Corps service were travel-related), less than a month before I headed off to Ukraine. That post centered on an Albert Camus quote about fear and travel and how travel takes us back to ourselves. I still agree with that, though after more than two years living in Ukraine and four months living in London (with more to come) I have more perspective on travel and living abroad. On that note, here are some things that recently resonated with me:

My friend Liv posted the following quote on her blog last week:

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you- it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you… Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
-Anthony Bourdain

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Ukraine and particularly Sniatyn, the town in which I lived and taught English for two years. Maybe because spring is arriving and I loved spring in Sniatyn, when the sun begins to have warmth again, the days get longer, trees gain leaves and flowers come out, and people start digging in their gardens and fields. Maybe also because I’ve been away long enough — almost 5 months — to appreciate how nice a life I had there. That feeling is sometimes magnified by living in a place — London — that is almost the polar opposite of Sniatyn in terms of size, culture, and way of life.

Not that I don’t like living in London; on the contrary, there’s no place I’d rather be, especially since living here means living with F. But the contrast can be stark at times. This is where Bourdain’s above quote comes in. Travel, which I expand to include living abroad, is not always comfortable and sometimes it does hurt. But, like Bourdain says, “that’s okay.” Because most importantly, living abroad really does get under your skin to change you; Sniatyn has certainly left “marks on [my] memory” and “on [my] heart”; the people, the places, my school, daily life… I took so much with me from my experiences in Ukraine and I hope that I left “something good behind.” The same goes for now living in London. Sometimes it’s tough to live in such a big city; it’s interesting how isolating it can feel. But we are changing and adapting with the journey — adventure — of living here and I’m sure London will leave its marks, like Ukraine has.

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Another quote that struck a chord with me recently is this:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
-Mark Twain

Gosh that is so true. When living abroad seems hard, all I have to do is think about how much I am gaining in terms of worldview, tolerance, open-mindedness, and more. So whether you travel the world or only have the time and resources to travel to the nearest big city, do it. You’ll be surprised at — if you are open to it — how much your perspective and worldview can grow and expand with just one trip.

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