A number of students this summer found themselves in a unique situation. These students stepped onto a plane, took off and when they landed found themselves a world away from the one they just left.
One such journey was my own, on a trip to Sint Maarten in the Caribbean for a close family member’s wedding. Sint Maarten is a colonized island shared by the French and the Dutch. While it seemed to be fairly diverse, but it was easy to tell that being American carried no special significance anymore. Upon arriving, we were hustled through a small kiosk simply labeled “Immigration” as Dutch citizens comfortably skirted by through a wide-open gate to our right.
Once through customs, we stepped outside and were greeted with a humid ocean spray and a heavy dose of culture shock. Dogs ran wild amongst the US-owned rental cars, dirt bikes recklessly popped wheelies on the narrow highways ahead. Toto whimpered at our heels, for we were definitely not in Kansas anymore.
Travelers find out very quickly that even the most basic of tasks can feel impossible to perform without knowledge of the host country’s language.
On the French side of the island, English was almost non-existent. Many of us drove around aimlessly until the few French speakers in the group spoke up and begin to grow comfortable speaking with the natives.
For those who don’t know the language, trying to say anything at all to the locals can feel daunting, sometimes downright nerve-wracking. People wander along the marché until they see through the windows that the bakery they sought is actually called a “boulangerie”, and simply ordering sliced bread can feel a journey to a different planet. Being an outsider encourages a person to think, speak and even act in different ways so that they may begin living with the locals rather than just aside them. With new knowledge and experiences comes entirely different perspectives that follow a person long after they come home.
Finding your dreams very well could be as easy as stepping off a plane and keeping an open mind; you might just find a place to call home. If not, then you still come back with new perspectives, experiences, possibly the beginnings of a new language and the realization that beyond the classroom some of us might be dreading lies a world rich with diversity and adventures to be had. It’s ours for the taking, so whether it’s through Washburn or your own volition, tune in with your inner vagabond and go have yourself a transformational experience.