Forego the Guided Tours to Have a True International Experience

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Though I’m pretty sure all the world’s oceans have been discovered at this point, the quote above is still meaningful when understood metaphorically. It makes me think of my first international travel experience; when I went to Italy with my father and his girlfriend’s family. The entire trip, we were an inseparable group. Because of this, though I can say that I’ve seen Italy, I can’t really say that I experienced Italy, (except perhaps for one day when I got lost in Venice). The trip was a series of resort hotels and guided tours – we hardly ever had to share a word with someone who didn’t speak English fluently. In Andre Gide’s words, I was keeping the shore in sight.

I didn’t completely stray from the shore until Argentina, when I went to Buenos Aires to work short-term out of Bridge’s office there. Though I had a network of coworkers in Buenos Aires, I was the only person responsible for myself and my experience. And I hardly did anything touristy. Mostly, I walked around the city, stopping in at cafes and restaurants whenever and wherever I felt like it. I struggled through conversations with bartenders and shopkeepers with my intermediate Spanish, made friends with a Brazilian woman who hardly spoke English, and had countless experiences that truly make me feel like I can say that I did experience Buenos Aires, as brief as my stay was.

Because my trip wasn’t planned or guided, and I stayed with an Argentinian host family instead of at a fancy hotel, I learned a lot about myself that I couldn’t have discovered any other way. I know that I’m comfortable in strange cities I’ve never been to. I know that I can find a way to communicate with those that speak another language when I need to. I know the world isn’t so big or its people so different.

The point is, the best experiences in life come from challenges. You need to seek out the opportunities to discover something more about yourself. They’re not always easy and sometimes they’re even a little bit scary, but they’re so, so worth it. So lose sight of the shore and you just might discover new oceans within yourself.

Wherever you decide to go, your experience abroad will be uniquely yours. Read about the joys of finding your way abroad.

July 1, 2013