As we advance all too quickly into 2016, I, among with billions of other human beings consider what we hope to achieve this year. The usual cliches spring to mind: get fit, save more money, pick up a new hobby. A goal among many is to travel to new and exotic places whether that be for two weeks or for a whole year. The feeling of wanderlust seems to be spreading as quickly as the common cold and while I sit here in a foreign country (China to be exact) I can’t help but consider the motives of myself and other explorers out there.
To put things in more context, I feel it’s important that I try to explain my own reasons for choosing to travel when and wherever I can. When I was 14, just two months before my 15th birthday, my mother died after a 6 year long battle with cancer. I watched as my mother’s life was drastically altered by this cruel and unforgiving disease and how it finally took her from me, my family and everyone else who loved her. From that day on, I was a different person, I saw things in a new way. I felt a compassion for others around me that I didn’t always possess before. As I got older and started to think about my future: my career, setting up a home and starting a family. However there was something in me, something very powerful that told me I needed to see as much of the world as I could before I started to create my own new one.
My travels began with a summer spent in upstate New York working on a children’s summer camp when I was 20 years old and I have to say that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I learned an invaluable amount about working with others in a completely unique and often stressful environment. The most important part of my job was to help and support the children to be themselves and what many of the older kids tended to forget, was that they were still children. This was an opportunity for myself and others around me to celebrate the joy of being a child and illustrate to the campers the importance of doing so. Summer camp has given me life long friendships and most unexpectedly, love. My boyfriend Ali and I met at summer camp in 2013 and now live together in China.
This brings me quite nicely to my next big adventure, Asia. Summer camp also provided me with a full time job in the UK helping other people experience the wonder and fulfillment of being a camp counselor. After 3 and a half years in this role I decided that it was the right time to try something different and see a new part of the world. I have an honors degree in English and I felt it was time I put my passion for the subject to good use and teach others. Now, 9 months, many tears and a couple of instances of terrible homesickness later, I feel so proud of myself for taking this scary and daunting step. China is another world compared to my little city in Scotland but that is a wonderful thing. People say that amazing things can only occur when you are outside of your comfort zone and I have certainly put that theory to the test. Exceptionally different food, traditions and even driving etiquette are just a few of the things that I have adapted to here in Nantong. I think many people from the West misunderstand Chinese culture and too often equate different to mean bad. From what I have experienced, the Chinese people are very much about community, sharing food, bring the old and the young together and trying to secure a better future for themselves as a nation. I feel very lucky to have been welcomed so kindly by students and the people I encounter all over the city.
My explorations have taken me to many different places and I am grateful for the experiences that I have had along the way. However there is a lot to be said for home. There seems to be a growing culture of people who use their travel experience to belittle those who have chosen a different path. We are each seeking different things in life and there is no right or wrong way to try to find them. Social media plays a significant role in making people question what they look like, where they live, who they date and where they travel to. It’s part of human nature to play the ‘keeping up with the Jones’ game and it takes a lot of conviction to try and pull away from it. I have my reasons for feeling the need to see the world but I would give anything to change what has brought me to this mindset.
We are all here to be happy and what causes that is different for everyone. If you want to travel, travel but do it for you, not so you can upload your pictures to Facebook or Instagram and get 100 likes. If you want to stay in your home country all your life then don’t let others judge you for making the decision to do so. I am guilty of thinking people who don’t travel are narrow minded or too scared and now I understand that it’s simply not true. I have witnessed first hand how short and fragile life can be and one of the most important things I have learned from this is that you have to do what you think is best for you.
Seeing the world is not about viewing famous landscapes or architecture. It’s about the world you create for yourself with those around you. It’s about the relationships you make and appreciating that we all have something different to offer.
I’d like to end this post (finally, I hear your say) by simply saying love yourself (and not in the way Justin Bieber alludes to) and those around you, and wherever you are on your journey through life, take a deep breath and smile, you’re doing just fine.
Photo credit: Duncan Errington