Imagine...a car drives down a rough road past a field, as the sun rises behind a big red barn. This is a classic scene is several small-town movies, such as Remember the Titans and Hoosiers. But that's not a movie I have to watch; that's how I get to school every day. I've grown up in a small town in central Michigan. Here, I've forged several lasting bonds and many great memories, but I always felt I've lacked broader world exposure. My town is 95% Caucasian, conservative, and Christian - not exactly a bastion of diversity. My personal preference of escape isn't far from, well, anything in my small town. Often, to venture out of town, I sit on my couch, and dive into a movie. Film is a window to the world, showing me exotic destinations in blockbusters such as The Italian Job, Murder on the Orient Express, or any James Bond selection. But seeing is different than experiencing. Teenagers in 2019 see friends on FaceTime, or talk to them through Snapchat. While modern technology has provided us with instant communication, it lacks real. We can talk to our friends virtually, but it is just that: Virtual. In order to make a true connection, we must seek out the real.
This same principle applies to travel. Teens today could Google the Alhambra or Gibraltar, and have videos, pictures, and articles, all within three seconds of hitting the enter key. But that, as well, lacks realism. Therein lies the value of travel. While the internet offers a quick visual, travel abroad offers an experience not just for the eyes; it exploits the other four senses as well. Travelling exposes students like me to cultural experiences that they lack in daily life. My mom (who's a Spanish teacher at my high school) once told me a story about how some of the kids she took to Spain had octopus on their flight from Atlanta to Madrid. Octopus! In town, we don't even have a great non-chain pizza place! An experience like airplane octopus (which probably wasn't even great) is something not available within the city limits. To quote Gandalf from The Hobbit, 'The world isn't in your books and maps. It's out there."
Experiences provide many things, chiefly, memories. I can remember a lot of firsts - my first concert (Thomas Rhett, even though I'm a classic rock guy), my first high school cross country race (21:52, now an 18:27), and my first best friend (a talkative actor who's soon to be my travel-abroad roommate). Moving outside of your comfort zone creates a great many firsts, which I look forward to, come spring break 2020: My first flamenco dance class, my first international flight, and my first authentic paella (the food truck outside my work doesn't really count). Unique experiences cultivate unique memories. Plus, just being in another country immerses you in culture you can't find anywhere else. I can't discover the richness of Spain from the Internet, from secondhand stories, or the Rick Steves' book on my nightstand. I know that my friends and I are going to dive in headfirst to the culture of this new environment. But desiring to "be there" isn't enough. Recently, I missed a chance to hang out with some of my older friends at their senior Homecoming. Ultimately, I was upset because that experience eluded me. Too many people do this every day; opportunities slap them in the face, but they miss the epicness of "being there" because they are afraid to risk the unknown. In the wisdom of Ferris Buehler, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it."
I am fortunate to have travelled the United States, from beautiful woods in Vermont, to coastal beaches on Anna Maria Island. I have travelled with friends and with family. But I can go back to all of those places. I mean, I might even go to college in Maine! But I don't know when I'm going to be able to travel to Europe again. The vibrancy is out there. It is all for the taking if students like me just reach out and grab it. I know I want to take advantage of these amazing opportunities - to live the real. As Captain Jack declares in Pirates of the Caribbean - another great film with exotic destinations - "Now, bring me that horizon."
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