I watch the field of blinking lights fly past my window. We shoot into the sky at over 300mph, turning my city into a little toy display, like the kind you see in Christmas shop windows. In 6 hours and 50 minutes, I will be in Frankfurt. Only 3 generations ago, this would have been a perilous journey of weeks at sea. It’s no mystery that technology is advancing amazingly fast, but what I never realized before is how drastically the meaning of travel is changing with it.
During the Era of Enlightenment, educational travel was a luxury experience and rite of passage for the upper class. Wealthy families would send their older children on a grand tour of Europe to learn about their standard for proper culture: the arts, music, and other educational marks of class so they could come home as cultivated members of high society. The popularity of studying abroad almost seems like a modern comeback of this trend. It is again becoming a privileged rite of passage for university students to gain the admired quality of being worldly, and to say they experienced the influential foreign cities of our time.
However, educational travel has fortunately become more accessible and less superficial; it's not only rich aristocrats fooling around in Europe anymore. Among my generation, many young people study abroad in a variety of places to learn how to be members of our globalized society. Many of us want to make a positive change for humanity, not just our countrymen, and we see learning about the world outside of our experience as an important way to prepare for this.
Between my summer internship overseas and my upcoming semester abroad, I’ve had a crazy month of hopping on planes, visiting people, and getting my affairs in order. I was excited about my family’s vacation to a small beach town in Delaware. When I talked to my family about my plans to study abroad, they were nothing but encouraging. For them, traveling was something you did for your honeymoon and in your golden years, if you were lucky to have enough money saved up.
We were all sitting on the porch of our rented condo, overlooking the ocean. My mom says how I’m so lucky, and she wishes they had abroad programs like these when she was in school. “Yes, travel while you’re young; now you have the time!” is how she would phrase it, in one way or another. She wanted to be a flight attendant when she was little, before she decided she wanted to be a nurse. I wonder if everyone feels this way when they are young, and breaking out of the town they lived in is one of their top priorities, until the responsibilities stack up, and the bills come, and their free time becomes a handful of days a year.
The older people in my life talk about traveling and new experiences like a closed chapter in a book. It was something they did when they were young before they got back to “real life.” Or they tell me, “you can travel again when you retire,” and I suppose that’s true. But I also don’t believe in waiting on hope alone. I hope I will be that financially secure 40 years from now, and I hope I will still be in good health, but not even tomorrow is promised.
I watch a passenger ship crawl slowly across the horizon against an erupting sunset. Thinking about how moments like these might become so rare makes me feel betrayed, like my life is getting robbed from me. Maybe I am entitled, or my hopes are too high, but I thought my time was mine. As I grow up, it seems as if the expectations of adulthood are pushing my life onto a rigid track like those of the tramcars passing below my window.
I’m studying Geography because I love to learn about the world, and the people living around her, not because I want my days to look the same. This past summer was the start of my first time living abroad, and it has made me question, learn, and discover about myself and others. Not only because of the different cultures, but because of the new experiences that a break in routine allows for. I want to take this perspective with me for the rest of my life. It shows me that being a responsible adult doesn't mean giving up my love of travel, adventure, and spontaneity. Maybe, feeling connected to other places and different cultures doesn’t have to be a temporary phase or a luxurious fling for only the most privileged.
Now, there are youth programs, school exchanges, scholarships, and thrifty travel sites to get people going global. I have hostels listed with a click on my smartphone for $20 a night, catered to my exact demographic. I’ve heard of people getting seasonal jobs teaching English overseas or working at hostels, hotels, and ships so they could travel. Even if I’m not travelling for my job or for vacation, seeing things within my own country or state is still travelling; it doesn’t always have to mean big expensive trips. I can always find an adventure, I just have to think outside the box.
Although it is much easier than ever before, there are still accessibility gaps in travel and education. People will always need time and money, so studying abroad or any travel remains a privilege. I do not fail to see this, and I plan to make the most of every opportunity while I have this freedom. Still, I want to play the part of the optimist. Wherever you are in life, old or young, working or unemployed, living the dream or in a rough patch, everyone can make the most of their unique journey. Good luck and godspeed.
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<p>If I could be anywhere, I’d be by the seaside. In my free time I love to write poetry and go on new adventures! As a Geography and International Affairs major, I’m fascinated with the relationship between people, society, and their environment. I don’t know what I want to do after graduation, but I look forward to figuring it out!</p>