The Reasons Why We Travel

Travel. Why do we do it?

Honesty moment- traveling abroad is not easy. When people post pictures on social media, travel looks glamorous, but it is actually quite challenging. It is expensive and can be exhausting at times. It is also one of the most testing and stretching experiences you can voluntarily sign up for. You are surrounded by a foreign language and culture daily.

They say that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. In my opinion, if you can live abroad for any amount of time, you have the grit, the ingenuity and willpower to do just about anything. Travel truly shows you the stuff you are made of, the good, the bad and the ugly.

We travel because we are curious. We are curious to see the world, to not just read about it online or see photos on our timelines. We are curious to learn about other ways of life and curious to see our own ability to handle adversity. There is a curiosity in each of use like a well run dry that can only be satisfied with the refreshing of travel.

I came to Italy, plain and simple, because I wanted to grow. I was eager for a challenge. I was curious about a world outside of my comfort zone and what that would look like. I am a twenty-something who does not have it all figured out. My time here has taught me so much about myself and about other people. There have been lessons of empathy, lessons of forgiveness and letting things go, lessons on flexibility, lessons on openness and acceptance and lessons on being present and enjoying the moment.

Once I am back in America, my travels won’t stop. Each year, I have a goal to travel to at least one new state in America. In 2018, Utah is my state of choice. My goal is to get to all 50. (I am currently sitting at 30 states.) Why? Because I am curious. Each state has its own uniqueness, and you can easily travel from the west coast to the east coast and feel like you are in a different country. I travel simply to learn and to better understand people.

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Nice, Italy

Don’t just take my word on the value of travel and living a curious life. I asked some of my fellow WEP teacher assistants and friends why they travel, and they had a lot to say. A lot of them have traveled around the world prior to our time in Italy, and I have so much admiration for each of them. Every time I am with the teacher assistants in my program, I learn something from each of them.

My friend and fellow world traveler Tiffany White explains it most poignantly when she says, “At the end of the day, we are all humans, and we all have stories to tell. So, I travel to see the world, but with my heart just as much as my eyes.”

Keep reading to meet some of the other WEP teacher assistants and read the reasons why they travel:

Griffen, MacLeod, Chino Hills, California

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“The reason why I travel is that this world is so much bigger than just ourselves. I am searching to make myself, and whoever I encounter, have a better life, in whatever capacity. Learning, teaching, experiencing, seeing, and, overall, enjoying life as much as possible in the world we are blessed with.”

Zuzu Hamel, Seattle, Washington

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“I travel because it gives me a sense of independence I’ve never felt before. I love getting to experience and meet new people. As I see more and more of the world, it allows me to appreciate other cultures and makes me miss and appreciate home in ways I hadn’t before.”

Tommy Do, Dallas, Texas

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“I believe that in order to make an impact upon the world, you have to go out there and see it. Traveling gives me the opportunity to meet people from various backgrounds who all have a story to tell. We can all learn from and help one another. Being able to make these meaningful connections inspires me to travel, to have an open-mind and leads me to love my experiences that much more!”

Taylor Gersch, Portland, Oregon

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“I travel because it gives me a chance to learn about other cultures and an opportunity to teach others about my culture and way of life. Traveling also allows me to explore other parts of the world that are incredibly beautiful.”

Jonathan Sambucci, Mullica Hill, New Jersey

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“Travel isn’t about stamps in a passport. It’s not something you ought to do in your early 20’s because ‘You’re only young once!’ Travel is a mindset. I am currently in Italy, and I am traveling, but when I return home, I won’t stop. I’ll try a new dish I haven’t before. I will go to a new park and make a new friend. It’s an attitude driven by the never-ending question of “What exactly is behind that corner?”

Cara Costello, Boston, Massachusetts
*Please note that Cara sent so many good travel photos, it was hard to choose.

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“I travel because despite all of the terror going on all over the world right now, especially in my country with politics and social madness, I want to experience the beauty that surpasses the negative. The world is a big place. I believe experiencing its different cultures and exploring the unknown is imperative if you want to grow as a human being. Travel not only to live the world but to live in awe of all of its beauty.”

Nicanor Basabas, Wellington, New Zealand

“The reason why I travel is because I enjoy learning languages. The fact that if I go to a country and I can converse with the people in their language, I feel more of a local. Your experience becomes more real compared to just being a tourist.”

Tiffany White, Allentown, Pennsylvania

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“I travel because I’m not just a citizen of the United States but of the world. I’ve traveled for sports, for study abroad and now for cultural exchange- While my reason for traveling may change, the outcome is always the same. Each time I learn something new. Those that say traveling is the best classroom are undoubtedly correct. While I experience new cultures, I am also able to reflect on my own being and my own culture. The challenges we have to overcome abroad teach responsibility, problem solving and flexibility. It has all surely helped me grow as a person.”

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Ms. Not Know-It-All

If there’s anything that I know as a twenty-something, it’s that I don’t know everything.

To be 100 percent candid, it feels like I hardly know anything most days. And that’s OK. In my 20s, I am learning about being an adult, about living on my own, about negotiating salary, about mortgages, 401K’s and how to live with roommates. I am learning about what friendship in adulthood looks like versus college and the teenage years. I am learning about dating, about my wants and needs in relationships, about setting boundaries in love, work and friendship.

I am learning. Aren’t we all?

Since being in Italy, I have been confronted with the reality that it is impossible to know everything and have it all together at all times. It is not only impossible, but it is also not the point of travel. The point of traveling is to learn about other people, different cultures and, inevitably, about yourself in the process.

Since living abroad, my brain has been on constant information overload. I am literally always learning something new. Whether it is a new word, directions to go somewhere or a cultural norm that is different in Italy than in America, there’s always something new to learn. I kind of like it that way. The stumbling, the baby steps, the blunders are all a part of learning something new.

One of my teacher assistant friends speaks five different languages. (FIVE. Count ’em!) Needless to say, I am very impressed by him. I have remedial Spanish skills, and I can hold a conversation if need be, but other than that, English is all I’ve got. My friend and I were talking about what it’s like living in a foreign country and the process of learning a new language.

We also talked about teaching our students English. We had a similar experience in that we found a good majority of our students were afraid to speak English in class. I thought back to my Spanish classes in high school and college, and I could completely understand the reason why. There is a fear when trying to learn a new language and speaking that you will get it wrong. There’s a fear of being embarrassed and of not knowing the right words to say or of saying them wrong.

Twenty-Something Advice (For Anybody): “Throw caution to the wind. Don’t let fear of getting something wrong stop you from doing it.”

Here’s what I am learning and trying to bravely accept: It’s OK to get it wrong. In fact, the only way you will ever learn is by stumbling, taking a few wrong turns, and falling flat on your face. It’s OK to mess up. The older you get, the harder it seems to embrace this idea of learning and messing up. As adults, our pride can inhibit us from learning new things for fear of embarrassment and the fear of what other people will think.

Any person who speaks more than one language will tell you the best way to learn is by listening and speaking. You have to be willing to get it wrong so you can eventually get it right. Heck yes, sometimes it’s awkward repeating the same word in Italiano over and over again, but it’s the only way I am going to learn. So I keep trying. I keep asking questions. “Come si dice…” (how do you say…) is how I start most of my sentences in Italy.

I make a lot of mistakes, and I am sure sometimes my accent sounds really bad, but I am trying. I won’t let fear of embarrassment stop me from learning. Also, I think I have embarrassed myself so much in life that, at this point, nothing phases me. I’ve learned to laugh at myself and not sweat the small things.

“To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity.”

I encourage you to fail your way to success. Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong, but instead, just accept that you will make mistakes ahead of time. You won’t learn until you try!

With hope,
Stevie

The Power of One

Hi readers! First off, I just want to thank you for following along in my Italian adventure and my journey as a twenty-something. My hope for each post is that you can relate, walk away inspired and perhaps have a laugh or two. (Because I am definitely a twenty-something still figuring out this thing called life, all the while facing embarrassing, cringe-worthy and humorous mishaps and missteps along the way.)

It means the world to me to be able to share my experiences with you through the written word and photos. I am currently teaching a lesson on writing to some of my high school students and trying to convince them that writing can be fun. (Mind blowing idea!) So thanks for reading along and reassuring me that the power of the pen has not been lost.

In one of my recent posts, I shared with you about the ups and downs of living in a foreign country and about learning to embrace the differences. I still am encountering the culture shock I mentioned before, the learning a new language (I am reading a book in Italian at the moment), the stares when I’m out in public and the food, language and other differences.

Last week, there was a point where I was feeling pretty down. I messaged a friend who is living in Israel and teaching there for nine months, and I told her I was feeling pretty defeated. I didn’t understand just how she was doing this for six months longer than I was and how she was able to muster the strength to overcome the inevitable obstacles of life in a new country.

Of course, like the good friend she is, she encouraged me. She reminded that I have faced hard things before and I will surprise myself at my ability to overcome the obstacles I am facing now. Her words gave me a glimmer of hope. She reminded me of my own ability to do hard things, but she also reminded me of the power of a friend.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody): “One friend, one person, one kind word, one act of goodness can make all the difference.”

Life abroad has shown me the difference one person can make. My third week in Italy was rough (i.e. a no-show train to Milan, language barriers and adjusting to my new home and job). Other than talking with my American friend in Israel last week, I was able to spend time with another teacher assistant in a nearby town called Savigliano.

A friend was just what the doctor ordered. He showed me around his town, introduced me to his host family (they’re the sweetest people), took me for coffee and dulce (yum, Nutella croissant), and we went shopping! (Retail therapy is a thing!) It was simple and sweet, time with a friend on a warm, sunny day (the first in my time in Italy).

Slowly but surely, I watched my perspective start to shift simply because of the encounters I had with people. The next day, I had lunch with a professor from my school. We sat for hours just talking, and I was honest with her about the ups and downs of my time in Italy. There was no sugar-coating. (Gah, doesn’t it feel great to just be authentic with people?!) She took me for a tour of my town, and she showed me places in Bra where I might meet people my age to hang out with. She took me for coffee and dulce. This time I had torta al cioccolato. (If you couldn’t tell, the way to my heart is clearly coffee and sweets.) Yet again, time with a one kind person shifted my perspective. It was so simple, but it really made my day.

Fast forward to the weekend, on Friday night, I visited a nearby town, Saluzzo, with a friend who is from there. We had pizza and tiramisu, and I remember making a joke about how good it was to see people in their 20s and 30s out and about at night. We even laughed at the people staring at me! (My friend threatened to stare back on my behalf.)

The next day, Sunday, I spent a rain-filled seven hours touring Milan with another teacher assistant, my friend Gabby. We were soaked. Our hair, our shoes, our purses, everything wet. Our paper shopping bags were useless and dripping with water, but we had the best time. We joked about Italian men, and we laughed about how we missed American breakfast and earlier dinner time. We talked about spring break plans and how we want to see a soccer game while we are in Italy. Within my first hour in Milan, I saw a man steal something and get chased by police, a pregnant woman expose herself (and also run from police), and a young woman have a crying session in the train station. (Aaaah back to big city life!) It was a humorous and cloudy day well spent because of good company.

Plain and simple, life can be hard. We have curve balls thrown our way when unexpected things happen. We make mistakes and bad things happen. (Did I mention I got on the wrong, more expensive train to Milan and had to pay the ticket price plus a surcharge?) I think one of the most valuable tools we have in overcoming obstacles is a friend. One person can truly change your perspective and open the curtains on an otherwise dreary and dark life.

I am really grateful for the people, near and far, in my life who help find perspective and let the light in to the window of my heart.

Here are some photos from the last week. (Click on the image to enlarge and for captions.)

Savigliano


Saluzzo

Milano

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The Milan Cathedral, Duomo di Milano

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The Kardashians are all over Milan. This is the Milano Centrale train station.

With hope,
Stevie

Dear America, the World Is Watching

*Warning: The following post is political and not all roses and bunnies. If it offends you, well good. I ask that you take the time to consider why.

In my five weeks abroad, if there’s one thing that I have learned, it’s that American news is global news. When something happens in America, the whole world knows. It’s like a gunshot that reverberates around the globe.

My Italian host sister and host mom knew about the February 14th Florida high school shooting before I did. When I found out, I went into my room, and I watched the news coverage about the shooting at Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida. I sat and listened to teenagers talk about watching their friends, classmates and teachers bleed out on the floor as they ran for their lives. (They are the same age as the students I teach every day in school.)

I listened to the name and stories of the 17 victims who died. One student, Joaquin Oliver, was a Dwayne Wade fan, who was buried in his jersey. Another student, Alyssa Alhadeff, was a soccer player and a huge fan of the U.S. Women’s National Team. I looked at the victims’ photos and videos, and I listened to their moms, dads and friends talk about who they were. I listened, and I cried.

The same way I cried about the Las Vegas’ shooting last year (where 59 people were killed). The same way I cried for the Orlando, Florida nightclub shooting in 2016 (where 49 people were killed). The same tears I cried for those lost at the Newtown elementary school (26 killed, 20 of whom were children ages 6- to 7-years-old), the South Carolina church (9 killed) and the Aurora movie theater (12 killed).

Every time a mass shooting occurs in America, I listen to the names of the victims and to their stories. Although it is heavy and difficult to hear, for me, it is important to remember the lives lost. By listening, it is a way of saying their lives, their stories mattered. I realize that there’s strength in tears because tears can compel you to action.

Americans need to know that what happens in America does not stay in America. While we are often viewed as the leading nation in democracy and freedom, the whole world is wondering what we are doing with the gun issue. My roommate for the first week of teacher assistant orientation in Italy is Australian. She explained to me that Australia had one mass shooting in 1996, changed its laws and hasn’t had one since. An Italian friend in his 20s told me that he does not understand Americans and the 2nd Amendment. He asked me how could Americans be so adamant about our “rights” and “freedom” to carry weapons in everyday, civilian life even if it compromises the safety of others?

I did not have the answers to any of their questions or concerns about America and gun control. In fact, I agree with them. Americans should be embarrassed at the number of mass shootings we’ve had in the last 10 years alone and how little has changed in our legal system. We should not only be embarrassed, but we should be angry. We should be so angry that we are compelled to change something.

What I do know is this: It is reckless and irresponsible to use blanket statements (or generalizations, assumptions and stereotypes) and to label all mass shooters as terrorists or as “crazy” people with mental illness. If we look at facts, actual FACTS, and lay aside emotions, most mass shootings in America are committed by white men, American citizens, with NO history of registered mental illness or terrorist affiliations. These are facts, not opinions or biases, but reality.

I was alarmed by a statement from NRA representative, Dana Loesch, at the recent CNN forum on the Florida high school shooting and gun control reform. When speaking about the gunman, she referred to him as “nuts” and as an “insane monster.” She said that a person capable of hurting himself or others should not be able to get an automatic weapon, and that the NRA does not support people who are “crazy” having access to guns. Loesch seemed to attempt to connect the dots between mass shootings and mental illness.

This statement baffled me. Capable of hurting himself or others? Don’t we all have the ability to hurt ourselves and the people around us? It’s a choice, isn’t it? We have free will. Just like rape or murder, mass shootings don’t require a mental illness to pull the trigger, but, rather, they require a person choosing to take their “right to bear arms” and use it for ill will. It is careless to say every mass shooter is mentally ill. It creates a stigma, and it also takes away responsibility of the shooter and the legal system that allows the shooter to obtain weapons capable of mass murder.

My question is why would any everyday civilian need bump stocks or automatic weapons, which are used in times of war and for combat. Why is the right to carry guns more important than the safety of children? How many more times do we have to get this issue wrong in order for something to change? How many more mass shootings have to occur for common sense to kick in? Does it have to happen to someone you love or do you have to stare down the barrel of a gun in order to stop simply talking about the issue and sending prayers and warm thoughts without taking action?

Dear America, we as a nation have to do better (myself included.) It is a matter of life and death. I want to be safe at the movie theater, at church, and at concerts. These are all places where mass shootings have occurred in the last 10 years. I want to send my future children to school and know that they are safe there.

Wake up America. It’s time for less talk and more action. So what can you do? Educate yourselves about gun control laws in America. Start voting in more than just the presidential election every four years. Vote in your state and local elections and only support officials who take a strong stand for common sense gun laws. Do not financially support businesses or politicians who take money from the NRA. Boycott the NRA and its affiliates. Take action. Do something.

I am encouraged by the teenagers raising hell right now to get America’s attention. As a twenty-something, I want to do my part so this mass shooting trend and careless gun culture is not something I pass down to my children. Because this should not be normal. This should not be something people ask me about when I am in another country and they realize I am American.

Dear America, it is time to wake up. The whole world is watching you.

With hope,
Stevie

Different, Not Better or Worst, Just Different

I will have officially been in Italy a month this Tuesday, March 6. Oh, what a month it has been!

I have experienced a lot of blunders, mishaps (missed trains as mentioned in my last post), and growing pains throughout the last 30 days. The best remedy I have found in the face of obstacles has been a sense of humor. As the old adage says, “A merry heart doeth the heart good, like a medicine.”

I won’t lie. I have definitely had my moments here and there when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel on my Italy experience (i.e. the culture shock I mentioned last week), but I’m no quitter. When the going gets tough, it can be easy to follow the inclination to run away, but I have learned, that, oftentimes, when life is tough, it is the time when we need to ground our heels to the ground the most and refuse to quit.

On Friday night, myself and a group of teacher’s assistants in my program (WEP) met in Turin for dinner and drinks. As we crammed together in a small corner table at a local bar on a freezing night, we exchanged stories of culture shock, the stresses of being in a foreign country and travel mishaps. It felt good to speak English with fluent speakers and to be surrounded by people who understood the ups and downs I’ve been experiencing the last month, people who were going through the same thing.

I was not alone.

I was not the only one who really wanted eggs for breakfast instead of cookies and pastries. I was not the only one confused by the level of misogny we’ve witnessed in Italian culture. (One teacher assistant’s host sibling literally refers to his mother as donna or woman, and shouts at her to hurry up when she’s cooking dinner.) I was not the only person who has gotten a lot of stares when I’m out in public. Even at dinner on Friday, myself and two of the other female teacher assistants kept getting stared at. (I now know what celebrities out in public must feel like- fish in a tank to be observed and pointed at- and it is the worst feeling ever. Let them live their lives!) I am not sure if it is because I speak English, I am American or because I am a minority, but whatever the reason, I am painstakingly aware that I am different every time I step out into a public place.

Twenty-Something Advice (for anyone): “Differences don’t have to separate but can be a door to conversation.”

Even Friday had a few mishaps of its own- We accidentally went to an all you-can-eat sushi bar. The apartment we rented for the weekend had no drinking water or Wifi as advertised, but it did require a $300 deposit that was listed in the tiniest, least visible print at the very bottom. My phone was knocked out of my hand by a drunken friend and cracked on the ground.

All in all, it was worth it to spend time with people who in the last month have quickly gone from strangers to friends. Boy, was there a lot of laughter! We told stories and stories and few more stories. We even made a few bilingual friends who spoke English and joined our group. (This is what happens when one of your extroverted friends goes to the bathroom in a bar. He brings back more friends.) We talked politics in America and Italy. We talked Brexit and gun violence. We talked misogyny in Italian culture and globally. We talked about American stereotypes compared to Italian stereotypes. We talked about race and diversity. Our new foreign friends told us we gave them hope for America (#MakeAmericaSaneAgain).

It was a loud, adventurous, really cold weekend. It reminded me that just because there are differences between Italy and my home in America, it does not make one better than the other. The loud bar conversations this weekend were a picture of what diversity looks like. People from all different nationalities (there were people from England, Italy, America, France and New Zealand) were gathered around our table acknowledging, talking and laughing about our differences.

Different does not mean better or worse. It just means not the same, unique, varied, or (my favorite) special. In the rest of my time in Italy, I hope to hold on to this truth. That there is so much to be learned by embracing people who do not look or think like you. That my differences make me special and so does the person’s next to me. I have been forced to confront that maybe just because I am used to doing things a certain way that it does not make them the right or the only way of doing things. (I am really trying to encourage my students to embrace diversity and to give pineapple pizza, Chicago deep-dish pizza and country music a chance!)

Differences don’t have to separate but can be a door to conversation. Differences can be a teacher and if not that, atleast they can be a source of great laughter.

Here are a few of the differences I’ve noticed between Italy and America in my first month:

      Italy                                                                                                 America

  • Date Format
    • Day, Month, Year                                                             Month, Date, Year
    • 04/03/18                                                                             03/04/2018
  • Language
    • Italian                                                                                English
    • Stress (or accent often on second to last syllable)
  • Time
    • Military Time                                                                    Standard Time
  • Mealtimes
    • Average dinner at 8 or 9                                                 Average dinner at 6 or 7
  • Money

    • Euros                                                                                   U.S. Dollars
  • Predominant Religion
    • Catholicism                                                                        Christianity
  • Demeanor With Strangers
    • More aloof                                                                          Make eye contact, Smile
  • Dinner Table Etiquette
    • Arms on table                                                                    Arms/elbows on table
    • Say “Buon appetito!” before eating                               Prayer/ or say nothing
  • Pizza
    • Pizza with pineapple is leprosy                                     Pineapple pizza is accepted
    • Peperoni = peppers                             Pepperoni = Salami made of pork and beef
    • Margherita= cheeze with sauce       Margherita= cheese, basil, tomato, no sauce
  • Coffee
    • Small, just espresso                             Larger, coffee beans filtered with hot water
    • Moka= a stove-top coffee maker                                   Mocha= chocolate coffee
  • Breakfast
    • Light, cafe and pastries or toast       Varied, bigger, the most important meal
  • Personal space
    • People talk close to each other                                      Americans like space
  • Health & Fitness
    • Italians walks a lot daily.                                                Most Americans drive a lot.
    • Eat a lot at home.                                                              Eat take-out/fast food often.
  • Bancomat ATM
  • Family Life
    • Italian moms do a lot at home for the family!            It depends on the family.
    • Adult children often live at home.          In late teens/early 20s, kids leave home.
  • Metric System
    • Liters                                                                                     Gallons
    • Kilometers                                                                            Miles
    • Meters/millimeters                                                             Inches/Centimeters
  • School is Monday – Saturday                                                      School is Monday – Friday
  • Slower way of everyday life                                                       Fast-paced culture
  • Umbrellas are used in snow/ rain.                      Umbrellas are for only rain.
  • Speak with body language/passionate                                      Less animated
  • Teens/adults were U.S. brands on clothes               Drink Starbucks, but don’t wear it.

Check out some photos from the weekend:

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Stopped by a photo exhibit featuring renowned Vogue photographer Frank Horvat

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And then the snow came! Time to head home!