I’m down to my final days in Australia now - I leave in less than a week for New Zealand. It’s a bittersweet feeling - another chapter of life closes as I depart from the country that has been home for two months and pack up my things once again for a new adventure.
I’ve been contemplative lately regarding all that I’ve learned while traveling over the last year. I’ve backpacked through seven different Central- and South- American countries, lived with a local family and worked for 3 months in Italy, made a brief visit to see old friends in Denmark, and am just finishing up two months living with/working for a family here in Australia. The Lord has been intentional through all of my travels, using each unique culture to teach me a variety of lessons - some more difficult than others, but all in His perfect timing.
I have been surprised though, at what I’ve learned. Before embarking abroad for the first time apart from Honduras, I had some ideas in my head about the things I would “see” or “learn” abroad. But of course, these were things that I had only conjured up in my mind, and not yet experienced. I had expected to be confronted with the challenges of dealing with uncomfortable climates or trying exotic foods that I might dislike (yet this has been the least of my troubles, I’ve somehow become the least picky eater ever! The only thing I still refuse to eat is Vegemite - that truly is disgusting!). I figured that I would make some culturally inappropriate mistakes or butcher the local lingo.
I did not expect to be slapped in the face with just how different my own culture is from the rest of the world. Maybe that sounds silly, like of course we are different, every person and country and culture is unique - yes. But it’s easy to say that; it’s more difficult to fully grasp.
There are some things that I picked up right away regarding the USA’s international reputation (which honestly is quite poor) - the most frequent responses that I’ve received when asking what people think of Americans is that we are fat and violent. Fast food and mass shootings are the first images that come to mind for many people around the globe when they think of the USA. (We’re also known for wearing athletic clothes in public, eating while walking, and having perfectly white, straight teeth).
But there are some “norms” that I have begun to understand are surprisingly, not actually normal for most other parts of the world. One of these things is America’s obsession with independence. We push ourselves towards a deemed “success” of independence - economic independence, so that we can provide for and care for ourselves without the help or others; emotional independence, so that we can “be strong” and deal with heartbreak or depression or anxiety on our own without seeking support from those around us… it takes different forms with different people.
For some reason our culture seems to elevate independence as the ultimate success, like when you’ve reached the point where you “don’t need anyone else,” you’re awesome. - but lets be honest, how many of us can actually survive day-to-day without the help of someone else? Maybe some people are better at faking it… but I’m 24 and I still call my mom crying when I’m stressed out every once in awhile…
I first began to recognize this in Latin America, when I witnessed the great percentage of single adults that still live at home with their parents. Honestly, my first reaction was to be judgemental- I thought that they were lazy and taking advantage of their family, not wanting to work and provide for themselves. But man, was I wrong. Now granted, in Latin America there is a great amount of poverty, and this often contributes to this style of living. However, even in areas where the financial aspect isn’t the issue, Latinos seem to be much more family-oriented than we are in the USA.
I had the privilege to stay with two Latino families during my travels - both in Costa Rica and in Peru. These gracious people have made such an impact on my life, in more areas than what I can write in this blog post… I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to be a part of these families’ everyday lives for a short time. Each family member did their part to care for one another and worked hard for the better of everyone. Their strengths and weaknesses were taken into account, and responsibilities were divided up accordingly, rather than each individual struggling to be “strong enough” on their own. These people are hard-workers - nobody is sitting around scratching their stomach. But at the same time, they support one another in their work, whether it be doing household chores, running errands, or going to their official job. They don’t seem beaten up by all that they do, because they love and encourage one another so much throughout it all.
I’ve also seen how much Italians value family during my time there (and I am thrilled at being able to return in March!) Big family reunions aren’t reserved for once-a-year occasions, but rather are weekly. My Nonno and Nonna (grandparents) would stop by our home very often, and the kids and I would spend at least one day a week at their house as well. The grandparents, uncles, aunts… (and a few people that I still don’t understand how they are related???) all care for one another, and especially accept responsibility to love and help raise the children.
Another misconception I had about traveling, was that it would make me more independent. Well, I can’t lie, in some ways it definitely has. But I’ve realized that this whole “solo travel” thing is not actually so “solo.” I need people. To explain directions when I’m lost (which is often), to translate for me when I don’t understand the language, to wake up super early in the morning and drive me to the airport just because they’re a good friend… I need help every day as someone traveling the world “on her own.”
As I compare my experience to God’s Word, I think that there are several cultures which seem to be doing this whole “body of Christ” thing a lot better than we tend to do in the USA. I think we have a lot of growing to do as a country in the area of community. However, I also think that the issue is not solely regarding the ways in which we relate to other people.
God has created us to live in community, to serve and love one another. But ultimately, I think that our inability to be completely independent should point us not only to living as the body of Christ, but more importantly, to our desperate need for Christ Himself.
We have a need to love and be loved by humans, but our greatest need is Jesus, who loved us so much that He died in our place. A perfect, sinless, God, humbled Himself and took the form of a human, that He might take the punishment for our sins and credit us with His righteousness.
I know that in my own life, my struggle towards independence often hints at an underlying pride, the pride of believing that I don’t need God. But may I, and you, never forget what He has done for us. May we never forget that the only reason we have breath today is because He made the ultimate sacrifice for us, which we can never deserve, repay, or earn back. May we preach ourselves the gospel EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
Traveling is continuing to open my eyes and shape the way I see things in the world. I don’t know how long this season of life will last - maybe I’ll forever be a vagabond, maybe I’ll be done in a few months… but I’m so incredibly grateful for the opportunity God has given me to share life with people from different cultures and for the spiritual growth that He has blessed me with along the way. I am continually humbled by the vastness of this great world that our Lord has created.
There is a famous quote by Michelangelo - "Ancora imparo." In Italian, this means "still I learn." Michelangelo said this at the age of 87. As I continue to explore the planet and grow in my relationship with the Lord, this phrase becomes more and more real to me.... Ancora Imparo. Still, I learn.
"For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."
I love Jesus and what He has to teach me while I wander around the planet. My other favorite things include: foreign languages, yoga, hiking,
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