As a youngster, my Midwestern family was no stranger to the open road. Year after year, the four of us would climb into my mom's 1998 purple Dodge minivan and head off to that summer's destination. Now - let me be clear - these were the days long before the invention of GPS so we never left home without our trusted book of US state maps. We enjoyed these priceless times of family bonding as we navigated the state roads and highways across the country. From an early age, I caught a small glimpse of just how much world was left to be explored.
In high school, I was fortunate to study in a foreign language class that allowed select students to participate in a state-wide study abroad honors program. Students who were admitted to the program were able to travel to the home country of the language they were studying and spend eight weeks living with a host family. Reflecting on my adventures as a child, I was anxious to apply for this program and be on my first flight outside the States as a 16 year old. By the grace of God, after all the application materials, exams, and interviews, I was notified a few months later that I would be traveling to France that summer with a cohort of my peers from high schools across Indiana.
Nine hours of flight time and a four hour bus ride later, I finally reached my host home in St. Brieuc, France but things did not unfold as I envisioned when I applied. I vividly remember calling my dad in tears during my first days trying to explain why I wanted to come home. Don't get me wrong...the family was nice and I had a comfortable place to sleep but I felt so lost not being able to speak English. Due to the program restrictions, I was facing the sink or swim complex: either say it in French or don't say it all. And what originally sounded outlandish soon became the mechanism that pushed me to actually understand and embrace the French culture.
Fast forward to my college years… despite the vast study abroad options on the table, my eyes were set on returning to Europe with the Cornell in Rome – Urban Planning program. Throughout the spring semester of 2012, my fellow classmates and I traveled across what felt like the entire country of Italy. Our program scheduled unique weekend trips where we would all pack into a charter bus and take a historical expedition to one of Italy's many, prized cities and towns. While this was an incredible way of exploring the Italian countryside, studying abroad in Europe also presented opportunities to travel to some of the close, neighboring countries. In totality, I journeyed to Barcelona, Spain; Istanbul, Turkey; Geneva, Switzerland; Chamonix, France; Athens, Greece; and Santorini, Greece. And what a memorable adventure it was!
In addition to my journeys across Europe, I've also travelled to New Delhi, India and Sakon Nakhon, Thailand for participation in a sustainable global development project. I recognize it to be an immense blessing having seen and experienced so many different countries and cities in the past 15 years. In the same light, I also understand the social responsibility that also comes with such a privilege. As a young person who has been fortunate to travel different parts of the world, I must utilize these experiences to inspire other youth to expand their horizons beyond their local communities. That's why I'm so passionate about our work at WellTraveled. Here, we seek to not only educate and empower young people in the realm of cultural awareness but we also strive to enable them with the skills, resources, and relationships to actually participate in these global adventures.