When I told people I would be out of school and travelling for three months, reactions varied. Although many were supportive, some seemed surprised that my parents would let their daughter do this. To them, missing school for three months would leave a gap in my education, that by traveling I was somehow not learning. My time in Europe has shown something different. Through allowing me to see historical evidence firsthand, to be immersed in other cultures and to evaluate my future plans, traveling has enhanced my education.
European history is pretty well covered in school. From Rome to World War I, I have spent a long time studying this area. However, learning through research, projects and skilled teachers only gave me a background. Visiting Ephesus, the ruins of a Greco-Roman city, it was clear how old and how adept these civilizations were. Being able to move 2000 kilometres and find the same style that’s lasted several thousand years, I understood the incredible strength of Rome. Another part of visiting historical sites in person was seeing the influence of an event on the people and country. In north-eastern Croatia, the war-ruined houses left untouched after the Yugoslav conflict hinted at how recent the fighting was and how hard it is to get over. The war memorials written with an emphasis on victory and independence, instead of destruction and suffering show the feelings and tensions still present in the region. Nothing could have taught me better how deep the conflict was than passing villages partly prospering and partly abandoned. Or slowly coming to realize that parts of northern France are ugly and empty because they were destroyed by the trench warfare of WWI. Instead of vaguely remembering the past for their dates and vocabulary, I saw the living legacy of history, the way it continues to shape people.
It was seeing the evidence of conflicts that reminded me why I love Canada. As much as Europe is enriched by its history, it also suffers from it. Knowing that every place I went to had a couple thousand years’ worth of scars, both physical and emotional, made me appreciate my very young, peaceful country. By seeing the issues of other countries, I was taught about my own culture’s advantages, whether it was our multiculturalism or anti-smoking laws. By seeing the faults in other countries, I could reflect on why I like mine. It also worked vice-versa, realizing where Canada falls short. The free museum entry for anyone under 26 in France spoke to incredible devotion to their history. The many memorials and museums that Berlin has devoted to WWII showed Germany’s recognition of its negative actions. More generally, the European work-life balance, quality of food and public transit systems were an example of a healthier, more balanced society. It made me think about how Canada could be improved and reshaped.
On a personal level, travel also redefined my values and future plans. Having traveled for three months and in fourteen countries, I got a better idea of what is important for me. I really enjoyed our stays in villages and in the country, and found it much harder in big cities. It was also much more enjoyable when I could understand at least a bit of the language. Having the ability to be independent or free of people often determined how comfortable I was. Travelling allowed me to test many places, cultures and ways of living in a short space of time. It showed me what was important when it came to location. It also defined what home was to me. Despite having been away from Victoria than I’ve ever been, I was with my family and staying in touch with people and events in Canada. I learned from visiting other places how I value not only coordinates on a map, but the community. All these things I learned from this trip are extremely useful for deciding what I want to do and where I want to live in the future.
Travel allowed me to take what I learned in schools and transform it into experiences. It taught me about other cultures and gave me an appreciation for my own society. Through visiting other countries, I’ve gained an understanding that is much harder to obtain through school alone. Whether it be how I want to live or how other people have gone through horrible experiences, my trip has taken facts and made them feelings. Travel is not a substitute for school, but compliments it well, and should be valued for that. Through global experiences, I have had the chance to develop a more advanced and thorough view of myself and the world.