Traveling is one of my favorite things. Particularly visiting other countries which, on a side note, I have greatly missed being able to do over the past year. When I visit foreign places, I like to truly experience them as they are in real life, not as tourists do, but as locals do. Seeing other cultures for what they are actually like and imagining being in that culture on a daily basis is fascinating to me. Don’t get me wrong, I like my fair share of certain tourist attractions, but there is something captivating about truly seeing what life is like in a place unfamiliar to me and sometimes drastically different from what I know. It challenges the mind to imagine, inspires emotions to feel, and encourages the soul to question. If this were my life, how would I be different than I am now? Are those things better or worse? What am I learning that will propel positive changes in myself? But most importantly, these experiences create appreciation.

When I take a trip, there are a lot of anxieties for me: flying, connecting flights, remembering the important things like documentation and money, relying on myself for skills that I don’t consider very strong…like navigation and figuring out transportation, language barriers, etc. The list goes on. So, sometimes, as hard as I try to be in the moment, I can’t always be the entire time. But even so, I am still taking things in, and it is usually not until I get home that I really feel like “wow, that was an amazing trip!” In part, this is because there are fewer worries on my shoulders when I am in my comfort zone, but mostly I feel like it is because when I reflect on everything I saw, experienced, and felt, I am overwhelmed by a renewed appreciation and gratitude for the life I have and the world I live in. Every time I go somewhere, I gain a new perspective on things. Something that I think people can only experience through challenging their comfort zones, in whatever way they are able to, or sometimes, in ways they have to.

Throughout COVID, I have been feeling a way that has seemed to be indescribable to me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was a sense of frustration, confusion, uncomfortableness, and anxiety, yet with a small bit of anticipation and hopefulness buried underneath. And it wasn’t until I thought about my travel experiences that I was able to identify it: culture shock. I don’t typically experience this too badly when I travel, but one trip in particular I did; it is certainly unpleasant, but in the back of my mind, I was calmed by knowing I would soon be returning home to familiarity. It may seem dramatic to use that phrase in this case, but what I experienced on that trip was an extremely similar feeling to what I have been feeling throughout this pandemic: a culture I don’t completely recognize, a way of life I am not used to, a sense of not knowing what to expect when I leave my house. But still, maintaining optimism through knowing I will one day recognize things again, and when I do, I have no doubt, I will have a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation for my way of life and a new perspective.

Sarah Curtis, MA
Intervention Manager
Lakes Center for Youth and Families