There are a lot of seasoned travelers in this community, and many of us are running out of space on our passports. Still, no matter how many miles you collect, how high your status, most of us will never forget our first time traveling abroad. Here’s mine:
I participated in an exchange program at the University of Newcastle in Australia. It was my first time flying internationally, and I was beyond thrilled. I chose Australia over Europe because it is farther away, and I figured it would go to Europe all the time when I graduated from college and became a millionaire.
Six months down under.
Orlando to Sydney (via Chicago and LA – this is how you know I was a novice, and broke), in the middle seat on all three flights. I didn’t even notice. I was going to Australia for 6 months!!
Not having to face a language barrier made things much easier, and the Australian people are wonderful. Always a serious student in the States, I actually allowed myself to spend more time diving, surfing (epic fail) and trying to meet Steve Irwin at The Australia Zoo…oh, and I found my palate for wine in the Hunter Valley.
But it was the day-to-day living, the non-touristy things, that really opened my eyes to the beautiful differences in the world:
- One night a friend asked me if we actually had yellow school buses in the US and people actually rode in them. In Australia, kids ride the city bus.
- Driving on the left, even for a lefty, was challenging
- Meeting other exchange students from Norway, Ireland, Brazil, New Zealand…and learning about their lives, hopes and dreams.
- Sunday dinners with my friends and their families and hearing their stories. So different from my own, but similar in all of the human ways that stories are similar no matter who you are.
- Watching Australian movies – The Dish, Two Hands, Me, Myself, I, The Castle and Bootmen are my favorites.
- Dealing with giant spiders in my house. Not sure how this changed me but seriously, Australia has some HUGE spiders! http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2015/07/13-new-species-of-spider-discovered-in-queensland
- I was there for 9/11, and I felt like I experienced it as an American but also as an outsider, the way we view horrible things in other countries when it doesn’t touch us so closely. My memories of that time are so different than my friends and family who were stateside that day.
As my adventure was coming to an end I didn’t want to leave. I started looking into work visas and considering applying for citizenship. In the end I did come home. I needed to finish my degree so I could start making millions and get back to traveling. Returning to the U.S. felt strange at first, but I volunteered in the study abroad office to prepare other students for their adventures. That helped.
My adventures today tend to be a little shorter in duration, but I still enjoy the path less traveled over tourist hot spots. I think that comes from actually living somewhere internationally for my first out-of-country experience.
So, where did you go abroad for the first time? And, more importantly, what did you learn? About yourself? About the world?
Looking forward to hearing your stories!