Some people travel the world so they can cross the sites of their bucket list. Leaning Tower of Pisa? Check. Statue of Liberty? Check.
I guess I’m not like most people, though, because I’d rather travel the world for the little things. Buckingham Palace is beautiful, but my favorite thing about London is the way the streets smell after it's rained. I’ve always believed that the world wasn’t meant to be toured but rather experienced. To me, travelling is less about the places you go and more about the way it changes you. It’s about who you’re with and what you learned.
â–º FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
I decided to study as a foreign exchange student in a very tiny village 4,604 miles away from everything and everyone I knew. I went through an organization called ‘International Student Exchange’ and my five months abroad were some of the best in my life. Living in France was very different than I expected and even more different than my American life. In the USA, I live in a city with over two million people. In France, my village had less than six hundred people. In the USA, I excel at school and academics. In France, I struggled to understand what my teachers were saying. For every challenge, though, I managed to find the good things. St. Louis’ sky certainly doesn’t light up at night with thousands of stars the way it does in Véranne. And even though classes were hard, my fellow French classmates always made me feel welcomed and comfortable.
To tell you a five-month long tale would be impossible with only six hundred words. There were wonderfully happy moments like walking to the crêperie with my host-sister, and quite sad times like spending Thanksgiving and Christmas away from my family. There were funny things, like when my French classmates scored higher than me on the English exam (in my defense, the exam was testing British English!), and uncomfortable moments like when I didn’t understand what a person was trying to tell me. I wouldn’t give any of it up, though, because each day I lived away from home was a day I learned something new. I became more aware of who I was; the things that made me different from my French friends and the things that we had in common. I learned about humanity and how even though we all speak different languages and practice different religions, we’re still human beings. Ironically, throughout my stay in France I became more proud to call myself an American. Over those months, I learned more about myself and how people live than I’d ever learned before.
Since being home, I’ve come to miss the spot I’d stand waiting for my bus in the morning, and how you could smell the boulangerie baking the baguettes to sell later that day. I miss the way I’d kiss someone’s cheek each time I saw them, just to say salut!. I miss the way my little host-brother would practice his English with me, never remembering how to pronounce “yesterday”. These little things are what my journey was made of and they’re what life is made of.
Life is not a tourist attraction. It’s a compilation of the little things, the big laughs and the minor setbacks, that somehow work together to write an entire story. My story. So I can't cross the Eiffel Tower off my Bucket List. But I’ve watched the sunset over the mountains in the south of France and it changed my life.