After graduating college, I taught English overseas in Asia and Europe.
When people ask me what I learned from my journeys abroad, they typically mean factually or intellectually.
So generally, I will just tell them some interesting cultural facts or snippets of the language. I’ll say a neat phrase I picked up. I’ll tell them about the music, food or share some funny story of miscommunication or culture shock.
But really, what have I learned from my travels?
Well, I know I can get from point A to B in a new country without a deep understanding of the bus routes or language.
I can rely on my creative brain to figure out a workaround, such as miming the act of grocery shopping to a bus driver.
I can communicate almost anything through hand gestures and crazy sound effects. Nobody will ever beat me at charades. I have mastered the art of talking without talking.
I can use my brain to get out of dangerous situations, such as losing a stranger who starts following me in a crowd.
I now have a very close and intimate relationship with my intuition. When I hear my inner voice, I listen.
I can shop smartly even when I am functionally illiterate.
I am relentless.
I tracked down a student taken out of my school by child protective services. I had formed a close relationship with him after finding out he was not being taken care of at home. I advocated for months for an abused/neglected student until he was finally removed from the danger and got the care and psychological services he needed.
All while not speaking the language.
I have learned how capable, intuitive, clever and strong I am.
I have discovered how very little credence I give to anyone who tries to tell me otherwise.
And, I know how to laugh. How to truly, and sincerely, laugh.
My luggage is lost? I’ll smile. It’s a challenge. Life is boring without them, and now I get to use my beautiful brain to solve a problem.
I have had many amazing experiences overseas.
I will always remember stepping onto the majestic and exciting Charles Bridge in Prague for the first time. I will never forget meditating in a temple overlooking a Korean valley and clouds below. And, I will always cherish that care-free moment on a train, with my pen and a journal, looking out at the wind farms in Austria.
But, I discovered in the end it wasn’t what happened to me, or what I saw, that mattered.
It was not about any certain story, or experience or place that I visited.
It was my spirit.
There is nothing in the world more powerful than knowing who I am, when nobody else is around, when nobody else is there to catch me.
What I learned from my journeys—what I truly learned—is personal power.
Knowing who I am.
Being who I am.
Learning, while in the midst of everything changing, I am the one constant.
If you’re able, I recommend traveling somewhere alone.
Take even a small vacation by yourself. Depend on you. I can recommend no single thing more.
Because it is not what you know. It’s who you know.
And I am pleased to know me.
Author: Marie Brown
Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Catherine Monkman