My STEP Signature Project was traveling across Eastern Europe starting in Rome and ending in London. Though I was technically a solo traveller, through G Adventures, I traveled with 15-17 other people. We visited 14 cities in 9 countries in 23 days.
As a child, my family and I would go on a family vacation/road trip every year to a different part of the country: Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Orlando. Furthermore, I had the chance to travel to Chicago and Washington, D.C. with my high school and visited my sisters in Minneapolis and participated in a summer program in New York City. On these trips, I began to notice that I didn’t get homesick as others did and loved experiencing new places as much as I could. In a way, my heart yearned to see places I’ve never been more so than being home as if traveling was my home. This, also, may because I’ve been known to make my home in people rather than in places and objects. Anyways, it came as no surprise to me that finally traveling outside the country didn’t scare me or make me nervous as others thought it would. It did somewhat surprise me though that this adventure intensified my desire to travel as much as it did. Now, I want to travel all the time and possibly even make it my life.
Furthermore, this experience transformed my views and assumptions of the world from what they used to be. First of all, I didn’t realize how much English people knew and was very nervous at first that there would be a huge language barrier. I was very surprised to find that practically everyone I came in contact with knew some English and was very helpful when I was confused, granted we went to “touristy” cities. Additionally, I am a very guarded person and sometimes like to keep to myself. This project made me more open and trusting of others as I had to trust practical strangers to be concerned about me and my safety, just as they had to do with me. This trust came from being open with them and letting them into my life and vice versa and so I made a lot of friends from around the world. Coming across some cultural differences made me realize that these things dictate social norms in certain places and how free Americans can be in the way they dress and act and also, how Americans aren’t as free too.
During my travels, I had the chance to get to know people from around the world such as the people I traveled with and the people I met in each city and while traveling. They all had apart in my transformation that this experience brang. One lady in particular, though, had a great impact on me. Irmante Sungailaite, better known as Jumanji, was the Chief Experience Officer (a fancy word for tour guide) of our tour across Eastern Europe. She was from Lithuania, went to university in London, and had been traveling since she was 17 (she lives in a different place about every six months). Her love of traveling and general peppy demeanor is one of the big reasons that has intensified my desire to see and experience the world. Every place we went, she had several random stories about the history of the place, some I doubt I would’ve discovered if I went on a tour with anyone else.
Other people, also, had a great impact upon me such as Becca from Canada, Alex from Canada, Claire from the UK, Charlie from the UK, and Jeff from New York. These were some of the people I traveled with and befriended along the way. In the G Adventures group, I was usually on the younger end of things and these five people were definitely older as they had graduated from undergrad or grad school and already had careers. They taught me a lot about being an adult and, also, didn’t treat me as a little kid though I was 3-10 years younger. They were all so supportive and kind and hilarious. Getting to know them was awesome, to say the least and they helped me open up and trust practical strangers. We all looked out for one another, almost as if we made a little family within G Adventures.
Along our travels, I noticed many cultural differences such as in Italy, the church is much more sacred than in the US because women had to cover up their shoulders and knees, which is also why I believe America is a little more liberal in their social norms. Another big differences in our cultural as compared to that of Europe, is the taboo on drinking. In America, it is seen as bad to drink and it is construed that many college kids binge-drink whereas in Europe, drinking alcohol is very casual. Furthermore, I feel as if Americans have restricted themselves because of language. Everywhere we went, I had very little problem communicating since many people were at the very least bilingual, whereas many Americans can only say that they speak English fluently. There were many more cultural differences I experienced, but these were the main ones that peaked my interest and tweaked my assumptions about the world.
Going on this adventure has opened up my eyes to other possible roads that my life could go on and has given me some new goals. I now know that I would love to have a job that allows me to travel the world or maybe even have my main goal in life be to travel and live like Jumanji. Academically, this trip has made me want to take a semester abroad, possibly to Italy and to get a minor in Italian, to further immerse myself in one other culture instead of only getting a taste of several such as I have done in this month of travelling.