While in college, my husband, Marc, had the opportunity to travel abroad during his junior year. His adventure began in Vienna, Austria, where he studied international business and economics and German language for a semester. From there, he moved on to London where he attended two summer sessions at the London School of Economics. Before returning to Denver University, he traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East. During the nearly nine months that he spent abroad, in addition to his academic studies, he had the good fortune to get to know many, many people – natives of the countries that he visited, other exchange students from around the world. It was a veritable melting pot of culture, language, ideas and fun! It was a formidable experience for Marc that continues to have an impact on him to this day… rarely day goes by that he doesn’t recall a story from that time in his life.
Late last year, when Marc and I, along with our nine-year-old son, Ian, traveled to the Galapagos Islands, we were markedly struck by all that we
did, saw and learned. Of course, there were all of the lessons of the Galapagos themselves: The volcanic archipelago, the animals, the ecology, the water, the history, etc. However, the undoubtedly most important benefit was that we built friendships with the other 35 passengers and 32 crew members with whom we lived for more than a week. All American, the passengers hailed from places like California, Washington State, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Texas, New York, Maryland and Missouri. The crew was entirely Ecuadorian, some even living in the Galapagos themselves. Within 24 hours of being on that boat, many of us felt as though we had already made friends for life. Our varying histories, coupled with common experiences and interest in the Galapagos have bound us together in a very special, meaningful and enduring way.
These types of experiences are why it was an easy decision when we were asked to host a small dinner party in our home for an international high school student who is spending time in our city for her senior year through the AFS Intercultural Programs organization. Marc, Ian and I were delighted to welcome Cindy from Indonesia, along with her “American sisters,” Elizabeth and Julia (in whose home Cindy is staying for the year).
Marc and Ian picked up the girls around 6pm – they arrived at our house around 6:15pm and we had a lively meal. Dinner conversation ranged from storytelling about life in Kansas City vs. Sumatra, varying religious customs, how spicy can spicy food get, languages (Cindy “only” speaks five languages!) and much, much more! After dinner, we had dessert, played board games, continued our plentiful conversations and did a lot of laughing. It was such fun!
At 9:45pm, it was time for the girls to return home. We exchanged email addresses, hugs and promised to keep in touch. Before Cindy left, she gave Ian a big hug and said, “Ian, my new ‘American brother,’ come visit me in Indonesia.” It was such a nice way to end the evening.
I share this story to convey this: No matter where we are in the world, no matter our traditions and customs, no matter our belief sets and ideologies, we’re not that different. Connecting with others, as I have suggested in the past, is a very human need. Building bridges into one another’s lives is as natural a requirement as breathing. Should you have the opportunity to travel or to invite a traveler into your home, into your life – whether from domestic or international climes, take it! Open yourself to the idea; seek the exposure. Learn all you can. Talk a lot. Laugh a lot. Build friendships, partnerships and alliances with others the world over. Expand your family with new brothers and sisters wherever you are.