To the left of my bed is my most prized possession: a collection of pictures, each representing a place explored and a lesson learned. My love for travel stemmed from a young curiosity towards adventure and discovery; I loved how as I learned about a place’s culture and history I also learned about a piece of myself. Hence, I began collecting physical memories, allowing every city and experience to find its home on my wall.
The painting on the left corner of my wall of waves crashing on an Australian beach reminds me of my humorous attempt at surfing and how rewarding determination, faith in one’s self, and a mouthful of salt water could be. To the right hangs a watercolor of Rome illuminated by hazy raindrops, where due to a rainstorm, I learned to make the most of the time given to me – to never wait for an opportunity to arise, not even for the weather to change. However, among the myriad of portraits, my favorite is of a local garden in Wujiang, China. The cherry blossoms sown across the page are breathtaking, but for me the true beauty lies in the portrait’s reminder to continuously step outside my comfort zone. My freshman year I was chosen by my town to participate in a student-exchange program where I would travel to China and stay with a foster family. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, yet I was absolutely terrified. I was merely fifteen and would be traveling fifteen hours away from everything I knew with neither friends nor family to guide me. Nonetheless, I pushed myself to go, and in return, I received an amazing experience. My host family became a second family, despite our cultural differences. We laughed together as they brought me into their world, teaching Chinese ways, such as conducting a proper tea ceremony and painting calligraphy. The family’s children brought me to their high school and introduced me to their daily life. A junior level math class dominated by boys was the highlight of my day. My Mandarin was nowhere near perfect, but math was a language that I spoke fluently. Others stared in shock as this little American girl evaluated inequalities with ease, defying both their stereotypes and expectations alike. As the day wore on, our cultural differences melted away. During gym class, I taught everyone how to play soccer, a game which they had only ever seen on television. After school, I helped my new friends with their English homework, which I sheepishly had to admit was difficult, even for a native speaker.
A few days later, a local news network interviewed me about my experience in Wujiang. As I remarked about all I had learned, I realized how much I really had grown, all from exploring new horizons and challenging myself. As my second family gifted me the portrait as a token of their love, I promised I would keep it, along with the lessons learned, for the rest of my life.
Every morning when I wake, I am greeted by this smorgasbord of pictures to the left of my bed. They represent the places I have been, yet are nailed to the roots of the place I am from. They are the experiences that shaped me, that challenged me, that pushed me, but they are also the pieces that create the picture of who I am today. As I look up at the wall today and smile, I only wonder what new pictures and experiences I will be able to add over the next four years.
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