Sunday, September 7, 2014

Reflections on Traveling

As I was taking my shower today, I kept thinking about my upcoming trip to Italy (mostly because I have to do laundry, I'm not sure how to use the washer, and I don't know where my landlady is or when I'll see her next to ask her). And, as I was thinking about this trip to Italy, I was thinking about how I, personally, like to travel. Now, I like to travel in comfort, usually, and I like to travel in groups. I can understand how people can travel by themselves and have life-changing experiences (and I'll probably be doing some solo traveling, myself), but I think I love the idea of sharing experiences with people you grow close to. I feel like my best travel experiences, so far, have been with People to People, and that those have shaped my preferred method of travel.

If you don't know, I travelled with People to People (hereafter referred to as P2P) twice, the first time to China and the second to the U.K. and Ireland. Also if you didn't know, P2P is an organization that sends students on international trips all over the world as a sort of ambassador of the U.S., started by Eisenhower's ideas about how to cultivate world peace. (For more info visit the site.). P2P was my first time traveling abroad without my family, and I jumped right in with China. It's 40 students, sometimes from the same area, sometimes not, who travel together for 2 or 3 weeks all over an area of the world, and while you may get to know a few before the trip, or know them from school, the trip is really where it all happens. It's where you finally meet the entirety of your delegation, your friends and family and enemies for the rest of the trip, the people you get to share a once-in-a-lifetime experience with. 

The delegations are normally combined, 20 people from one area and 20 from another. These are people who you may never see again after your reunion (though with the amazingness of Facebook and the internet, you can keep in touch with a lot of them still). And even though you may never see each other again, you'll still remember each and every--okay, most of them. More than half. Look, you may have to squint at the pictures for a minute, but eventually you'll get the name. Probably.

The point is, sharing the experience of traveling, even with complete strangers, was so meaningful to me. There were people there to witness the self-transformation, no matter how big or small, that comes with travel abroad for the sake of travel. The people understand you in a special way, and you can recount that time when you tried to make noodles and dumplings together, or that time you did those icebreakers in meetings or on the bus, and everyone was so surprised by how young you were. The struggle with trying to say your number for count off in Chinese, or hearing your cue over traffic.

Even meeting people who also go through the program, but weren't on your trip, you share something with. They know what count off is, they know the struggle. They understand the exhaustion of traveling all day and then collapsing in the bed, they know about the struggle of that first step when you're repelling down the castle wall.

Sharing the experience is something very special, and I'm looking forward to doing it again on this trip. Being in an entirely new place and traveling is one thing that I think really brings people together, people you wouldn't normally meet or talk to because of geographic reasons, or the hierarchy of school, or just that in normal life you may be just a little too different. But being on a trip like this? That's the one thing that you can share with someone for the rest of your life, no matter the flak that may or may not follow. You will always keep those memories of that time in your life.

I'm not sure whether I've fully articulated the phenomenon of shared experience or travel. It's something a little hard to explain when you think about it, but it's something almost everyone understands. And I'm so grateful that I got the opportunity to do it with P2P (twice) and that I get an opportunity with a group of a different kind, and friends I've known for a while, now. Also, being on a P2P trip means your literally a pro at holding your pose and smile in group shots while every single camera from every single person in the group is taking a picture. And you can put that on your resume (Not).

Okay, now I'm done being sentimental. You can go back to your daily lives now.

P.S. I swear, it's not that I have less pictures of people from the U.K. trip, it's that I had pictures of people from china in a separate folder than all of my other photos, so they were easier to get to. No hard feelings or anything.

P.P.S. Sorry if you didn't want your photo in this thing. But not really.

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