I recently got the opportunity to travel somewhere I never thought of going to. Shaped controversially by the media, I was quite hesitant to jump into a country I never experienced. Fear often places two hands over our eyes and blinds us from hidden opportunities. Before traveling, fear kept replaying the frightful imagery and headlines I’d consumed through international media. As others got to figure out my travel plans, fear got it’s “I told you so” face on. Every time I mentioned that I was traveling there, I was met with one of two responses: “Why are you going there? It’s not safe” or “Good luck!” (backed by incredulous laughter).
I kept a rightful global minded foot forward and assured that I was eager to understand their community better. I quickly learned their intentions were exactly the same as mine. It took in quite some thought process (and last minute visa processes) to get set and take off. My midnight flight on my way there, an English Pakistani lady who lived in Saudi was sitting next to me explaining how she never felt like she didn’t belong to the country she was born in, but rather to cultures and values she got to experience throughout her entire life, which necessarily made her feel like a foreigner everywhere she went.
My first step into the country seemed very familiar. I had an adrenaline rush from stepping into a place I barely knew anything about. Being a young woman from abroad, I got stares from the locals of who this alien-like creature was, but then again, the I used to get the same stares in my society. I came with no expectations whatsoever, erased all generalized stereotypes of the place and people, to fully embrace what was to come my way from the beautiful chaos I were to experience.
My foremost cultural shock was from the level of hospitality. It is tremendous, so much so that they treat you like family; the people go out of their way to put the others’ care and satisfaction before their own. Indeed, it wasn’t long before they became one of the most hospitable communities I’d encountered. I may have appeared foreign, even though I have been told several times I looked like I was from the northern provinces, but I definitely felt like one of them on the inside. I learned that they do not do so to impress guests but rather to express their appreciation to those people.
The reality is far more complex. Certainly, it is a country scarred by cynicism and corruption. But the people show a resilience that is utterly humbling in the face of these disasters. If you are talking about safety, then there is no place in the world which is a 100% safe. Yet the image of the average citizen from the country being a religious fanatic or a terrorist is simply the result of ignorance and prejudice. More remarkable, by far, is how the country remains, thanks to the strength and good humour of its people.
It is the people that play a huge part in defining the country. I wouldn’t have thought of traveling there if it wasn’t for a couple of exchange participants who visited my homeland that changed my perception of their country. There is so much beauty and happiness in hearing someone saying “You were the reason behind my coming and experiencing a country I wouldn’t have even thought about, and because of it I’ve grown into the person I am”. It makes you realize that the power of just your presence changeds someone’s life or mindset into experiencing things they would have never thought of doing.
I have always believed that travel teaches and enriches you without a scorecard. When you step out to see the world – meet people, get acquainted with different cultures, taste new cuisines or simply breathe in an unfamiliar city – you learn. It’s all about losing yourself into the arms of a new culture. You have to first shrug off the ‘safe’ and ‘tried and tested’ syndrome and delve into the unexplored with a free spirit. The most valuable lessons in life can never be expressed in black and white, but must be experienced. Stop reading about or watching the world passively and start living it. Of the many things I’ve learned in that short trip:
- Your title/role does not define you or make you any different from any other; we are all the same as much as we are different.
- Everyone just wants validation, love, security, joy and hopes for a better future. The way they vocalise this and work towards it is where things branch off, but we all have the same basic desires. You can relate to everyone in the world if you look past the superficial things that separate you.
- Seek out people with different beliefs and views of the world to yours and get to know their side of the story. A lot of people get their meaning in life from believing in things I don’t. Strength lies in differences.
- Speaking only English is incredibly limiting to non-tourist travellers: You will never truly experience local cultures if you limit yourself so give it a go in learning local languages.
- Leave ignorant stereotypes aside and have an open mind about how modern life is like in that culture. Respect differences, try to adapt to them yourself and realize that to them, you too might seem different in many ways.
- The universe owes you nothing; you owe it to yourself to be the master of where your life ends up.
I think we live in a world that is saturated with imagery, philosophies, ideologies and ideas thrown into our faces 24/7. The world is the best classroom; take advantage. Be open to its lessons. Travel is meaningful; it is meant to change us. You just have to be open up to it.
I was faced with the blinding sharp reality of what mattered and what didn’t. Usually, the higher the risk involved, the more rewarding the trip can be (within reason, of course). I see so many bucket lists and hear about people ticking countries off a list. You don’t “do” a country. The numbers don’t matter. The names don’t matter. What matters is what you take away from the experience; your memories. After the experience, I know that I have not only a home to host me in a new country, but a host in every province of that country. My biggest gratitude goes to my wonderful parents who, despite their endless worries throughout the trip away, gave me the chance to actually first-hand indulge into an experience that made me grow.
Failure is often inevitable, but instead of struggling tl avoid it, try to adopt the mentality of not letting the fear keep you from trying something new, and if you do fail, then you’d get to deal with it and try to learn from it. If travel has taught me one thing, it’s that things don’t just fall perfectly in your lap. You have to want it AND go for it. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.
Ultimately, how you travel is up to you. But I encourage everyone to be open minded, and go with no expectation whatsoever; let the trip fill you up. Instead of going to a place just to say “hey I’ve been there” I would push you to ask yourself why. Why do you want to go there? Ask people about a place before going; listen to people who have first-hand experience. Fate smiles on those who take chances; do assess your risks through of course. Then take a leap of faith and just do it. Book the ticket. Just pick up and move if you want to move. Will it be easy? Maybe, maybe not. Will it be rewarding? Absolutely.
Try and conquer a fear. Discover a new way of living. Live in a constant state of wonder. Life is an adventure or nothing at all.