Growing up hard of hearing in a place where I wasn’t accepted, where I was the outsider, and where I was looked down upon was difficult for me as a child. It didn’t help that I had already been an outsider by not speaking English when I first started, and the hearing aids made it worse. At that point, I had been spending most of my summers in Poland–it was a family tradition, where as soon as school let out for the summer, my grandmother and I would say good-bye to my parents at the airport in Newark, and we’d be off for Poland. My parents wanted me to go to Poland to get to know the family, the country, the culture, and the food. But what they didn’t know or realize was that Poland–in more ways than one–became my home.
And it taught me more than I could ever think to learn.
While I learnt the history and culture from the adults, it was my friends and cousins who taught me and challenged me. My cousins weren’t bullies, but they certainly didn’t beat around the bush–the truth was served cold. Always. While my friends were brutally honest, they taught me that when push came to shove, they’d have my back. All of these people, with whom I grew up in the idyllic hills of southern Poland and the large expanses of northeastern Poland, made a difference in my life. They’ve taught me to be true to myself, honest with everyone, never give up, and fight back when necessary. When the boys would pick on us, the girls taught me loyalty and sticking up for one another, and looking out for the weaker ones. They also taught me strength, humility, humbleness, and confidence. They showed me how to face fears (if not alone, then together), and to not take things personally. They brought out the extrovert in the introvert.
The experiences there, with my cousins and the support of my friends, helped the wounds from my time at school heal. It helped them callous over so they hurt a little less, and I’d be able to face the next school year with energy and less trepidation. To this day, I’d say that these girls, no matter how far apart we are or how little we talk, are still my friends, and I know that if I would pick up the phone tomorrow to call them with some issues, they’d ask who they need to sort out. And I know that if they’d call me, I’d show up at their doorstep with whatever tools necessary to solve the problems they have. Even these days, when I sit with my family in Poland, I learn new things or am reminded of a lesson that I have forgotten.
So what does that have to do with why I travel?
Because travel takes me out of my comfort zone and challenges me. I may not always know the language, or like the food of the places I visit, but that’s part of the fun! It provides me a piece of mind, a moment of respite from all the problems I may be dealing with at home. Sometimes, you just really need to pack your bag and go to a different place because it will give you a new perspective.
I have travelled often–with my parents, with a student organization, on my own and with friends–and each time, each place brought up a new lesson to learn, and a new challenge to overcome. In every location, I’ve made friends, whether these were individuals who travelled with me or locals. And these are the friendships that have stayed with me till now, as none of my closest friends today are people that lived in my town. They’re from far-flung places like Spain, Japan, Italy, Nigeria, and one who lives in Minnesota.
Furthermore, I love learning about history, the culture, and the language of each place. I truly believe on hands-on learning (something I picked up from the organization I travelled with) because it has always worked. Visiting places that I’ve read about in my history textbook makes a huge impression, and I always end up learning more from these visits about the historical time period and the culture of the country than I would in a classroom. This world is my classroom, and I’m but a simple learner of its ways. Also, it’s always a fun look on people’s faces when an almost-deaf girl can flawlessly say the simplest things in various languages. Even knowing “hello,” “thank you,” “please,” and “good-bye” in the language of each country I’ve travelled to, is enough to garner surprise from the locals and appreciation.
Lastly, each country has taught me something about myself, or made me overcome something. Spain was the country that made me realize that I could learn how to say s, sh, th, and that while I am hard of hearing, I am so attuned to sound and language that I could tell very quickly how differently people pronounce certain words. Japan really put me out of my comfort zone with the food (my parents will tell I’m the world’s pickiest eater), and Dubai shocked me with its oppulence.
All of these are the reasons I travel, because they represent growth, and enable me to be a wiser person who continually learns.