In the summer of 2017, I decided to travel to Cape Town, South Africa for three months.
My family thought I was nuts.
They were proud of my adventurous spirit but couldn’t fathom why I would choose to travel to a country so far away from home. Aside from a few members of the military, there aren’t many people in my family that have traveled out of the country. In fact, most haven’t ever left the state. But this only empowered me even more to travel, explore, and gain an experience I once only dreamed of.
So I went! And it was incredible. I met people from all across the continent, encountered a plethora of new languages I’d never heard, and learned so much about the history of apartheid in South Africa. I loved it so much that I traveled there again in March of this year. I’ve developed a true passion for international service, something I never would’ve imagined for myself. These experiences have significantly impacted how I view myself, my culture, and the cultures of those around me. I now encourage everyone to travel internationally if possible, especially if they’re young. There’s a shift in perspective that occurs when you place yourself outside of your comfort zone and it’s a beneficial change, one that will last for a lifetime.
Here are 4 reasons why you should pursue international travel:
1. It offers you a global perspective.
It’s very easy to remain within the confines of one’s own country and survey other cultures from afar—especially as an American. Without realizing it, we digest the societal stereotypes associated with people of different backgrounds and use them as filters in our daily interactions. Traveling abroad exposes you to people and cultures you may not be used to. You have the opportunity to understand them from a different perspective and hopefully reshape your personal views.
2. You’re forced to turn inward.
Being immersed in a new environment can be quite overwhelming, particularly if it’s your first time traveling. You experience sensory overload because your mind is steadily working to process all of the new sounds, smells, sights, and even sensations. It’s likely that social norms and expectations will vary from what you’re used to and this can be especially challenging. Introspection goes a long way in terms of reflecting on the experience and learning from it. You may have to reevaluate the way you once thought of a group of people, a culture, or environment. It sounds like a great deal of mental work and well, yes, it is. But it’s very well worth it.
3. Your cultural competency increases.
Cultural competency has become much of a buzzword in academia and professional workplaces as of late. More employers are seeking individuals who are culturally aware of different backgrounds and know how to collaborate in diverse settings. International travel is an excellent means of sharpening that skill. Being in a foreign country exposes you to many ethnic and religious backgrounds. Over time, you learn how to connect to those people and find areas of common interest. Building these relationships requires patience, courtesy, and openness—all admirable traits of a potential employee.
4. You develop an intense feeling of citizenship.
Depending on what you do while traveling—volunteering, working, or touring—you can expect to feel a sense of global citizenship. You realize there is more to the world than the people and places in your social bubble. Perhaps you feel more encouraged to volunteer internationally, work abroad, or simply plan another trip. But it’s likely you won’t leave without reevaluating your place as a [US] citizen.