As a new grad released from the tethers of institutional education, I leapt into a year of solo travel in Australia. That trip turned into three years abroad and an entirely new outlook on life and my association with the world around me.
Here are a few of the big lessons that I was confronted with on that first trip abroad when my world suddenly got a lot bigger.
1. Understanding where things come from is important.
In Western nations, we live completely detached from the manufacturing and production processes of most items we possess and consume. We moan about the cost of things, without considering the journey they have made to get to us.
And though I studied global development, it wasn’t until I witnessed, first-hand, the arduous process that something as small as a cashew nut has taken to land on our shelves1 that I developed a real appreciation for the production chain, and the privilege and exploitation that exists within it.
This lesson changed the way I prioritize material things, shifting my spending away from a cheap-and-plenty model—and, more broadly, bringing a greater respect and gratitude into the way I connect with the natural world.
2. National pride is great, but beware of patriotic brainwashing.
Canada is an amazing country to live in, no doubt. But it’s easy to fall into a dangerous habit of proclaiming we are the best in the world while failing to acknowledge our shortcomings.2
Learning how other nationalities perceive Canada was an alarming wake-up call. For many travellers, the whole “Canadians are nice” thing wasn’t actually an identifier they’d heard of. A lot of people I met criticized Alberta’s oil sands and mocked our overconsumption of energy, citing gas-guzzling vehicles and oversized household appliances.
Additionally, learning about other countries’ advancements—like Australia’s superannuation funds3 or Germany’s commitment to renewable energy4—made me question my understanding of how a nation could defend their best interests and demand more from their governments.
Ultimately, every place has its benefits and pitfalls, but it’s the awareness of our nation’s pain-points that has made me a more well-rounded citizen, constantly questioning the policies that govern our daily lives.
3. I don’t even know the amount of things I don’t know.
I never thought a lasting memory of Australia would be of admiring vegetation, but here we are. From the minute I arrived my senses were bombarded by my new natural surroundings. I was learning about everything from plants and exotic fruit varieties to central details of social and geographic history that I had never even heard of. The fact is, when you arrive somewhere new you cannot help but learn new things, and this inherent reality of travel delights my curiosity.
But the real revelation came when I thought, “if I’m this clueless about one country, imagine what else I don’t know!” It’s humbling to be reminded that there is infinite knowledge to collect about our world and keeping this lesson top-of-mind helps me check my arrogance and remain open to any advice and teachings that come my way.
For me, travelling is the catalyst to my personal development, and collecting life lessons is like collecting passport stamps: with each new place, I am sure to receive a few more.
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- Duncan’s Thai Kitchen. (2016). Ever wondered where cashew nuts come from? Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v83P1X-kd7I.
- Tristan Hopper. (2014). “I’m Canadian, f— you”: How boorish, “utterly wasted” tourists are rewriting the treasured myth of the Nice Canuck. The National Post. Retrieved from http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/im-canadian-f-you-how-boorish-utterly-wasted-tourists-are-rewriting-the-treasured-myth-of-the-nice-canuck.
- Nick Summers. (2013). In Australia, retirement saving done right. Bloomberg. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-05-30/in-australia-retirement-saving-done-right.
- Robert Kunzig. (2015). Germany could be a model for how we’ll get power in the future. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/11/climate-change/germany-renewable-energy-revolution-text.