How Travel is Changing My Life – and Can Change Yours Too

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.” – Anthony Bourdain

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Ulsan, South Korea

 

We live in a cookie-cutter world. We’re told to go to school, study hard, and get a good job. Work your 40-hours, come home, and do it all over again – week after week, year after year. Such a framework encourages us to make ‘safe’ decisions in life – ones that prevent us from fully reaching our potential as humans and experiencing all this world has to offer.

Sure, there is value in stability; pursuing a career you love while making money is a wonderful concept. I’ve always believed, however, that uncertainty is the beauty of your early adulthood – uncertainty of where you will live, the job you will work, who you will date, etc. While often scary, it presents equal opportunities that become increasingly complex with the progression of life.

It’s easy to write an article like this and act like I have all of the answers. I’m 24 years-old and undoubtedly have many mistakes and failures ahead of me. What I can say with absolute certainty, however, is that even after only 7 months living abroad in Korea, my life has changed – and traveling can change yours too.

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Travel comes in many shapes and sizes. Maybe to you, moving across the world seems a bit drastic  – I get it. The way I see travel is simply going somewhere out of your comfort zone, whether that be a new city, a new country, or even a new continent.

Travel, however, does not come without its difficulties. Sure, photos of your friend riding an elephant in Thailand or posing with children in an African village are great; but this content often misconstrues the reality of the struggles we face while adapting to a new place – though ones we eventually learn from.

I live in Gwangju, South Korea. I’m in the far outskirts of the city, where days can go by without seeing a fellow foreigner. As you can imagine, things inevitably get lonely. (Before I drum up your sympathy, let me preface by saying that while traveling, you meet some of the most amazing people and I’ve made incredible friends here.)

As a textbook extrovert, the past me would have shied away from these times of solitude. Since living here, however, out of necessity I’ve learned to embrace these moments – filling them with self-fulfilling activities like studying Korean, reading, and practicing guitar.

I can now have basic conversations with Korean natives, I’ve had paid gigs playing guitar/singing, and I can hold my own in philosophical debates with my friends about ‘the meaning of life’ better than ever!

I’ve turned this previous dread of time alone into sources of positive contribution to my life, both personally and professionally. As travel broadens the scope of our experiences and perspectives, our abilities to adapt to the face of adversity are ultimately enhanced.

Professionally, I earned a college degree in Marketing, loved my previous work in sales, and am fortunate to have come here with a lot of momentum in my chosen career back home. So why am I in Korea teaching English?

While I don’t necessarily advocate teaching as the sole means by which to travel, I think it’s invaluable to have diverse experiences early in life because from each we can gain transferable skills that apply elsewhere later on.

Take my career in sales for example; what better preparation for a future sales pitch than by keeping a class of 30 middle schoolers captivated in a language they barely understand? Beyond these tangible skills, travel simply makes us more interesting people and tell me an employer who would not value that.

Another lesson taught by travelling is the cultural perspectives we gain from a change of scenery. Our current society teaches us to ‘build walls’ between groups of people. No longer are we human, but rather ‘Liberal or Conservative’, ‘American or Chinese’, ‘Gay or Straight’ etc. This adversarial landscape we’ve cultivated has blurred the lines of human compassion and sympathy and forged a strong emphasis on animosity and conflict.

It’s not until we experience the lives of people elsewhere, or “walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food”, that we can truly gain an appreciation for the diversity of their cultures and beliefs.

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The line separating North and South Korea at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Often times, we learn the most by taking an outsider’s view of all that we have come to know. As a result, I am now more aware than ever in the person I am – whether it’s the interests I pursue, the way I treat others, or the people I chose to spend my time with. I’ve developed a strong sense of self-identity, as well as a stronger awareness of the world around me, that I don’t think would have been possible without a change of scenery.

So how does my story pertain to you and why you should travel? Maybe you feel like you are stuck in a rut; travel. You may be struggling to find your career aspirations or to get your boots in the ground professionally; travel. Maybe you’re going through a tough time or lacking a sense of purpose; travel. The common theme here is that we are all human, we all want to be happy, and I believe traveling to be one of the most actionable ways to make that happen.

It’s been only 7 months in Korea, yet living here has already changed me drastically. Don’t let yourself be stuck in life. Don’t let subpar define your reality. Travel, and trust me, you won’t regret it.

-ER

 

PS – If you think that traveling is reserved for a select few with the financial means to support it, you’re wrong. Nowadays, there are countless platforms that enable us to travel on a budget – or even make money while doing it! Reach out to me and I’d be happy to share some resources.

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