“I was in Madrid with my gam gam in 7th grade and I remember walking out of the Prado, looking at the Ritz Carlton across the street and the Goya exhibit banner and hearing the buzz of different languages around me. The palpable energy transmitted through the cries of street vendors, the strings of street performers and the smell of summer in the Cyprus trees; It hit me at once that the world is a wondrous place and if I truly wanted to attain some higher consciousness and become the person I wanted to be, I would have to see more of it before it got dark.” Drew Nelson, 22, 2014
There is a segment of my history, a small amount of time in my life that I will carry like a medallion around my neck forever. This is the time I went on exchange. A 24-hour plane wasn’t the medium that made this possible; it was my will.
What was your motivation to travel abroad? They ask, eager to hear the tale of your journey. I can’t define the decision making process that provoked this huge feat. I can’t tell you with clarity how exciting, invigorating, rewarding, or enjoyable this journey was for me. I can’t begin to share with you the confidence, independence, trust, and communicative techniques that I developed and enhanced. I can’t show you how much I fell in love with everyone I met or how much I miss them now that they’re not in my life anymore. I can’t express the nostalgia I feel everyday. But I will try. Not through the persuasion of my words, but others.
A study conducted in 2011 with a sample size of 516 people (primarily American college students) revealed that up to 40% of them had “A Case for Wanderlust” (P.O. Sheilds, 2011). The main contributing factor of this wanderlust was previous positive travel experiences. It was found that wanderlust scores grew according to the number of trips the students had taken, resulting in students four times more likely to travel if they had experienced up to twenty trips. The students infected with wanderlust were also found to have the most positive attitudes towards business and leisure travel. They also exhibit the most cultural openness (P.O. Sheilds, 2011). These results can be paralleled in the individual stories of students that have travelled abroad for study. There is little research on the issue of wanderlust and what motivates young adults to challenge themselves and move away from their home, culture, lifestyle, and friends and family. However, this research study certainly sheds some light on the topic and allows us to see that travel is a holistic sport that affects the individual and triggers social and cultural growth as well as an acceptance of diversity and self-reflection.
Drew travelled to Rotterdam, The Netherlands, for exchange in 2014 where he lived amongst other foreign students in an apartment close to Erasmus University. He lived there for five months from January to June and studied International Business.
I spoke with him about his experience, asking, what did you expect would happen on exchange? And what were your fears or concerns prior to making the leap from Colorado to The Netherlands? “I had no fantasies or standards binding me to a preconceived idea of what I thought should happen. The only thing I concerned myself with was what could happen… And it was perfect.” Drew is proud as he speaks to me. From his expressions and tone of voice radiate a passion and energy that I‘m familiar with, leading me to reminisce on my own experience. “I never expected to make the friends I did or experience such an electric, adrenaline-charged adventure,” he says. “I definitely thought I would study more, but I've never been so happy that I didn't spend all my time with my nose buried in books. I guess I expected to gain nothing and ended up gaining everything. Weird how that works right?”
Travel isn’t only for extraverts or the fearless. I’ve interviewed several students that participated in study abroad and there were some who admitted that the fear prior to going overseas almost prevented them from having the time of their lives. They were able to overcome it though, as one of the benefits of travelling and/or exchange is that it enables you to conquer those fears of displacement, isolation, and vulnerability in new surrounds. Matthew, 22, a UWS Communications student who travelled to England, Hertfordshire, with his older sister says, “I feel a hell of a lot more confident in myself. I made a heap of friends. I can communicate with a lot more people easier because I am not so reliant on my mum or anyone else, and I feel a tonne more independent than before.” His main fear prior to exchange was that he would become “easily homesick” and wouldn’t “mesh well with the Brits.” For Matthew this was his first experience of travelling and living away from home and mostly, without the company of Australian family and friends. However, he agrees that overcoming his fears and making the journey was more beneficial than he could have ever imagined.
Amongst the group of young women and men that were interviewed, all openly admitted to me that they would love to travel again, and the main hindrance was saving enough money for their next desired destinations. Regardless of their origin, culture, religion and lifestyle, these exchange students all discovered something new and exciting, and took home with them gold from a mine they never knew existed.
“I was lucky enough to make lifelong friends and learn more about myself, now travelling gives me a type of thrill and satisfaction that nothing else does” Megan, 21, from Santiago, participated in exchange in 2014 at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. For Aly, who was born in Egypt, the burning desire to travel and explore new places began at a young age. His first travel experience away from home was in a summer camp in Mexico, where he and other students taught English to children while travelling around the country. He made the promise to himself that he would never stop travelling, and he kept it. In 2014 January he travelled to Erasmus University (Rotterdam) for a semester of study abroad. In June he decided to continue this journey on exchange in Sydney. Now he resides on Kingswood campus at UWS until his funds drain out and he has to go back home. His greatest challenge so far has been travelling to Sydney, which is 24 hours by plane from home, and too expensive for family to visit him. That was no hindrance however, as he’s here now and fulfilling his goal- to visit as many places as he possibly can, enhancing his academic and cultural education by travelling and studying around the world.
A year ago, if by some chance I happened across a Shaman, or clairvoyant, or oracle, and they said to me, “You are going to travel the world and make memories that last for an eternity, friends that last even more so, and grow in ways you would have never imagined”, I most probably would have said, “cool”. Not realising that those words would in fact become a reality.
Now, I realise that travel is the ability to transport you from a place of comfort and security into one of mystery and challenges. This journey will test you. It will make you feel. It will make you think. It will make you reflect on yourself and your relationship with others. It will introduce you to a world a little faraway from home, where you will inevitably create your own home, and build your own family in the friends you make. It will help you grow and prosper in an environment that you were scared to enter. Above all else, it is guaranteed to make you feel good. I believe that everything we do is a lesson to our selves; exchange was the greatest lesson I ever gave myself. And If like Drew, you are driven by some “primal impetus to grow” yourself, “to see more and learn more” and become that “informed worldly citizen” you always dreamt yourself to be, than exchange may be just be the thing for you.
Images: Jessica Chehade and Drew Nelson