During the years in school, you learn more and faster and are more influenced by your environment than you ever will be in any other period of your life. Those valuable years are the time to take in as much as you can.
However, for more than 13 years, we spend five days a week in a classroom, in the same environment, and with the same people. We just know and understand what exists within the walls of the school, our home, and our town.
The classroom is the best location to expand your academic knowledge. But when it comes to learning about life, there is nothing that will enrich you more than travel. Lying by a pool in a resort, visiting an adventure park or shopping the streets of London are all great ways to travel, but travel is about far more.
It’s about getting accepted into the homes of locals in Brazil, running with local school kids through water houses in Borneo, getting lost in the streets of Colombia and volunteering at an orphanage in Mexico. During my childhood, my parents took us on a journey to Malaysia.
While we stayed at a resort and spent time by the pool, what I remember about our time there was a lot more meaningful. At the beginning of our trip, I met a girl my age, Jessy, who lived in Dubai. We became good friends and when the holiday came to an end, we exchanged addresses and became pen pals.
Over the years, Jessy and I wrote many times; I got educated about her life in the United Arab Emirates: the way she lived, what her school and her friends were like and the difficulties she faced in a culture which is very different from my own. Before that holiday, I’d never heard of Dubai, didn’t know anything about the Middle East and my friendship circle consisted of the 15 other students in my fifth-grade classroom.
Travel has a profound and unique ability to teach. Apart from the people you meet and the things you see; instead of being told things, you experience it. In a classroom, you study geography. While you travel, you pick up a map and get ready to explore a new location. You walk the streets, get lost and find places you didn’t know existed.
You will visit museums and churches, take in different sights and talk with the locals. You stay a couple of days, pick up the map again and decide where you’re headed next. You find out about which countries border each other, where they are situated in the world, what languages are spoken, which religions they follow — and the reason you do so is that you’re part of it all. A history class like no other.
Whenever I arrive in a new town, the surroundings inspire me to learn about the history, how it developed, what shaped the culture, the inhabitants and the environment. Was there a war, plague or famine? Do the locals still follow ancient traditions, and how unaffected are they by the modern world? It’s a lot more interesting to find out about a country’s history when you’re actually in that country and experiencing it.
Rather than just reading a bland history book, you can learn as you go and you will enjoy it a lot more. While not everyone lives the way you do, we’re all human: Maybe one of the most important things I have learned during my travels is that my life is totally different to the life of people in Africa or Asia or South America, but in the end, we are all similar on the inside.
I’ve met young people who live in huts on grass islands in Bolivia, apartments in London and favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Our lives were totally different, but I found out that we wanted similar things: family, friends, health, happiness, opportunity, and freedom. The most difficult thing is to leave a location knowing that in spite of the same drive for these basic desires, some of them will easily find them, while others will never get the chance because of the lives into which they were born.
Travel and the people you meet during your trips will always teach you more than you could ever imagine and it will also make you a better person. It will make you want to contribute to change and you will appreciate nature more. You will get a much better sense of adventure than you could imagine and you will develop a longing to see and experience more. And you will learn. Once you experience life outside of the walls of your school, your home, and your town, you will appreciate the life you were given within those walls to a much higher degree.