Travel and Connect

Coming from China and studying in the United States, I have travelled to my fair share of places. But it is only in Europe that I have truly discovered the excitement and value of living on the road and visiting places even at the cost of sleep deprivation or poor accommodation. Living in a world where everybody seems to be backpacking across continents, traveling can sometimes become a purposeless competition for us adventurous young adults. However as the famous lifelong traveler Rick Steves said: “Thoughtful travel is well worth the time and money.” I cannot agree more with his words of wisdom, because it is exactly during travel that we learn to become thoughtful and attentive to the local culture as well as people. And it is only during thoughtful travel that inspirational memories and lively stories become etched on our minds; that great knowledge of history and culture gets absorbed into our being; that mutual understanding is achieved and deepened among different nationalities. While thoughtful traveling has all these benefits to offer, one of the most precious lessons I have learned from this process of attentive voyaging is how to connect with people.

You can ask any globetrotter but they’d all agree that it is the people that make the traveling experience come alive. Living in such a culturally diverse context as Europe, you often meet people with unbelievably fascinating backgrounds and stories. What’s so charming about this cultural feast is that the moment you gather up the courage to reach out to people and converse with them, it is like as if you have found a treasure from which you can benefit for the rest of your life. Personally, I love the feeling of establishing an instant but spontaneous connection with my fellow travelers whether through similar experiences, common interests or cultural backgrounds.

On a train from Brussels to Luxembourg, I struck up a conversation with a British couple sitting next to me. After a brief exchange, I knew typical tedious train ride had at once ascended into a chance encounter. It turned out that both of them were professors of humanities in Oxford with an interest in literature. What a pleasant coincidence that they just so happened to be sitting next to me – a huge fan of Victorian literature. For the next two hours, our conversation ranged from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens, from Communism in China to aristocracy in England, from cultural distinctions to the increasingly expansive globalization – the list goes on.

In a hostel in Prague, I breakfasted with a German girl and an Argentinian guy. A few polite greetings at first led to a decision to travel together for the day, which undoubtedly turned into a dazzling cultural lesson. I mean, who wouldn’t love to have a German translator by your side when visiting the museum of Franz Kafka where most of the information is in German and brush up on some Spanish while preparing for a trip to Spain. In Belgium, a simple smile helped my friend and I become friends with this Chinese guy who was traveling around Europe by bus. Amazed by his endurance of often long-time harsh traveling conditions, we also learned that he had already explored Asia, biked all the way from Eastern China to Tibet and completed a road trip in America.

Of course, these people, as enigmatic and convivial as they are, are only short-term passengers in my life. But what will stay with me are their stories, their words or just a simple smile. And no matter how short-lived these friendships are, every single one of them will be vital to keeping my memories of these voyages warm and fresh on my mind.

Vicky Huang is a student at Colby-Sawyer College and an official API Student Blogger. Vicky is studying abroad with API in Paris, France.

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