“This Will Change Your Life”

Paris from the Top of Notre Dame Cathedral
Paris from the Top of Notre Dame Cathedral

Although the number of tour participants was small this year, none of them had ever traveled outside of North America.  One of the participants repeated several times that, “This [tour] will change your life.”  I’m sure it was meant broadly – that travel to Europe on a tour like the one I presented can be life changing – rather than only my particular tour.  But I do agree that this type of travel can change your life.

How Travel Changes Your Life

Travel to Europe has changed my life in ways I did not expect.  It has made me more aware, more attentive, and more accepting.

The first time I traveled abroad, I met distant relatives that a year before, I didn’t even know existed.  We became friends and though we rarely see each other, we still remain connected through email.  It is interesting to know that I have relatives and friends that live half-way around the world.

The Beach at Nice, France, with The French Alps in the Distance
The Beach at Nice, France, with The French Alps in the Distance

Personally knowing these Europeans makes me more interested in what is going on in their part of the world.  When somewhere in Europe is subjected to a terrorist act, I take more notice than I would have before.  I sense a closeness with them and feel empathy about their situation.

Social Issues
Our Distant Relatives in the Netherlands
Our Distant Relatives in the Netherlands

I am more aware of differences and similarities between our countries. Especially now, during the season leading up to our presidential election, I think about the political situations in other parts of the world.  How does the world look at what is going on in America? What social and political issues do my friends and relatives think are important?  Do they agree with my political views?

In addition to friends and relatives, I follow a few people on Facebook that have strong ties to other countries.  When these people post links to news articles about issues facing other countries, I am interested to read about them.  Earlier this year, France passed a law making it illegal for grocery stores to dispose of food waste – everything must be donated to charities or used as compost material.  I wonder if something like that could work here.

While working on my Master’s Degree, I met many students from around the world, particularly from Asia and the Middle East.  In addition, my family and I were able to travel to Japan earlier this year.  These experiences have made me even more aware of other cultures.

Sushi for Sale, Tokyo Food Show, Japan
Sushi for Sale, Tokyo Food Show, Japan

Does the small country of Japan have a problem with food waste?  Or do they have trouble feeding their population? As we rode the train in from the airport, we passed several rice paddies.  I wondered at the time – and still do – how many people can eat from the produce of these small paddies?

A High-Speed German Train ICE - Intercity Express
A High-Speed German Train
ICE – Intercity Express

Bikes, public transportation, or very tiny cars are the preferred modes of transportation for many people. Although the price of gasoline is generally higher in Europe, the average cost per family is probably lower.  My daughter lived in Germany for over two years and never bought a car.  When she returned to the states, it was one of her first purchases. Imagine the environmental impact this would have in our country.

Design and Architecture

Another way travel has impacted me is that I have become more aware of design. When I travel abroad, I pay attention to what people are wearing – I don’t do that in America. While each country has its own style, there are also some shared elements.  Scarves are still popular  – although I didn’t see as many on this trip when the temperature topped 90°F for several days.  People dress up a little more in Europe – no sloppy t-shirts, no sweats, no shorts unless they are at the beach.

While on the tour, we met with a group of French knitters.  It was interesting to see that some of the items they were knitting were very similar to the ones we were working on.  They were all – like us – members of the Ravelry knitting community which probably influenced all of our project choices.

"New" Church, Amsterdam, Netherlands
“New” Church,
Amsterdam, Netherlands

I notice architecture.  I think about new structures that are built in my hometown or nearby cities.  In Europe, older buildings are treasured – as they should be.  The “new” churches in Amsterdam and Delft, Netherlands were built in the 15th century. Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral was begun in the 12th century.  I cannot even imagine tearing down one of these churches to build something bigger and better. Hopefully, some of the older buildings in our cities are also treasured enough that they will remain for centuries.

Cultural Differences

It’s much easier to notice cultural differences than cultural similarities. Differences stand out, while similarities blend in. But cultural differences are what make a trip to another country interesting.

Duck a l'Orange, Paris, France
Duck a l’Orange,
Paris, France

I went out to eat at a nice restaurant last week – but there was no duck on the menu. I think every Paris restaurant menu included duck; many also listed escargot (snails) and foie gras (duck liver).  In the Netherlands, there are restaurants dedicated to pancakes; in Germany, there are always sausages. Although it is possible to get French, German, and even Dutch food in America, it is fun and interesting to eat traditional foods when visiting these countries.

Language differences are also interesting.  Some people are concerned about the language barriers, especially with people in France, but I’ve never encountered a real problem.  If you are courteous and attempt a “hello” in the new language, you will likely be responded to in English.

Willing to Change

Not only has travel changed my life, but it has made me more willing to change.  I look at everything from a new perspective.  I love to travel and explore other cultures, but I also look at my own country and culture differently.  My values have changed – or at least they have been thought through more carefully – and I focus on what is most important.


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