August 7, 2012

Why Do I Travel? - From The Impatient Traveller

I've mentioned my friend, Stephanie Stokes from The Impatient Traveller (henceforth referred to as Stokes), several times on the blog so far. The reason she gets a lot of airtime here at Loose of Limits is because she's amazing. I'm not just saying that because we went to college together, lived across the hall from each other, think each other is hilarious and share a common moniker. I'm saying it because she is truly a one-of-a-kind gal. Stokes is, like myself, a Missouri gal. She's a school teacher and LOVES it. She's the kind of teacher that cause parents to lobby for getting their kids in her class. She has an infectious interest in everything and, in teaching, has found her passion - something most of us never find in a career. Stokes also has wanderlust. And, until fairly recently, that wanderlust was unexplored. Then, without ever having left the United States before, she took a job teaching at an American school in England. Just like that, her world expanded. These days, she is an exploring fool, hopping around Europe like it's her job (which, sometimes, it is.) This summer, she's taking a break from England and spending time in Barcelona as part of a program with her school. (Read about her background and her new-found passion here: Part I, and Part II.) 

One of our goals in creating this blog was that we wanted our friends and family to see that exploring the world isn't impossible and that there are countless ways of achieving it. I asked Stokes to share some of her experiences and her thoughts on travel, and she has written this amazing (there's that word again) post. I hope you'll find inspiration in her story and begin to think about the best way for YOU to explore. ~ Stephanie

From Stokes:

Why do I travel? 

To gain knowledge. To gain my own independence. To gain perspective. 

Fish Sculpture - Port Olimpic, Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia is an amazing church designed by Antoni Gaudi that began construction 100 years before I was born. This Roman Catholic basilica is still under construction today. It is a masterpiece of architecture, and I am so lucky that for 7 weeks this summer, I have been living within walking distance of it. One Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, I ventured up the road to visit it. I glanced at the map to see how to get there, and then set out on foot. From my apartment, I can see the steeples of the church, as well as the cranes and scaffolding that surround it, so I figured I would simply follow the scaffolding until I arrived at my destination. 

As I was walking, the word scaffolding kept rolling around in my head. “Educational scaffolding” is a phrase that any teacher is familiar with, as it is defined to us in the most basic of courses. In education, scaffolding simply means to teach with support and then gradually take the support away so that the student can build independence and confidence in the skills they’ve learned. I started thinking about my own learning that has taken place over the past year.

I recalled a sunny Sunday last October when my friend invited me to go to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Being the good Christian that I am, I donned a nice pair of slacks, a cardigan, ballet flats, and a set of pearls for a lovely Sunday service. When I met my friends in the faculty room that morning, I saw that they were in sneakers, shorts, and carrying backpacks. I felt foolish and confused. Why weren’t they dressed up? We were going to church for crying out loud! I soon learned that, yeah, we were going to St. Paul’s, and yeah, we could attend a service, but we were also renting bikes and exploring London all day. I quickly went to my flat and changed to more appropriate attire for such sightseeing (well, I put on shorts). We spent that day (a warm 28 degree Celsius day in October, rare, I remember) walking and biking throughout the entire city. I saw and learned so much about London that day, but I also learned something about venturing into a new city. 
  1. Bring a map. 
  2. Wear comfortable walking shoes. 
  3. Make sure your camera is charged. 
  4. Don’t carry a heavy purse while riding a bike. It sucks.
Even though the city I was venturing through was only miles from my home, I learned a lot about how to travel that day. Even though my shoes were so worn out that evening that I threw them in the trash, that day was my favorite day of all of last year. For the first time in my life, I got to experience something new around every corner and loved the thrill of being an explorer. That day, I was scaffolded. I’m thankful for my friends for being patient with me as I changed clothes, as I complained about my feet, and as I whined about not having ridden a bike since I was ten. I’m thankful for the moment when I was given the map - given the power to lead our group through the city.

Caught up in my reverie, I suddenly realized that the scaffolding, cranes, and steeples of La Sagrada Famila were nowhere in sight. Though I was lost and frustrated with myself, I thought of all the other times I was lost in a city, and came upon something amazing. At this, I became excited about what was around each corner. I thought to myself:

Am I ever actually lost, or am I perpetually finding myself?

I was in awe as I came upon the church, only feet from it’s magnificent exterior. Finally, after all my wanderlusting through a new city, I had arrived. A minute later I was told it was closed for the day.
View of La Sagrada Familia from the sidewalk
Disgruntled but still hopeful, I walked home, re-routed myself, and spent the day hiking through Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s other masterpieces. Even though I didn’t get to do what I had originally set out to do, I still had an amazing day roaming the streets of Barcelona. All afternoon I was lost, then found, lost then found, on and on.
View of La Sagrada Familia from Park Gruell
Since I began my traveling abroad, I have seen so many beautiful sights, but I have also met countless beautiful people. I can now confidently say I have four friends who live in Romania; two Romanians and two Americans. I have a friend in Turkey, one in Germany, a few in Australia. Just last night I met three guys from Italy (one German, one Turkish, and one Argentinean- we spoke a mixture of English and Spanish, and I learned a bit of Italian). I have one friend from New Zealand (via Japan) who harshly but truthfully told me, “Everyone hates Americans. You’re cool, but that’s just the way it is.” I have a friend from Hawaii, a friend from New York, a friend from Minnesota. I could go on and on. I’ve gained so many people in my life to care about, to follow, and to learn from. Living abroad has taught me so much, not only about others, but where I’ve come from and where I want to be.

My experience abroad is unique in that no body else will be able to say that they ate Mexican food in Spain with a gal from Louisiana, or listened to a Spanish cellist belt out “The Sunshine of My Life” in a dank bar with a friend from York. Only a few remember the night in Ireland a friend and I taught a group of Aussies how to do "The Cupid Shuffle". No one else can say that they drank beers with three gay men from Holland whilst discussing the Canadian visa acquisition process. I doubt anyone else has been salsa dancing in England with friends from Ecuador and Canada. I have. I have and I’ve loved every minute of it.

In ninth grade I took a geography class. The objective of the course was to open our young Mid-Missouri minds to the “rest of the world”. However, the class consisted of us shading in maps of the countries of Europe, the countries of Asia, and so on. We never discussed cultures, people, or politics of other countries. The only thing I remember from that course is that light blue in the Crayola twelve pack of colored pencils makes the perfect shade for the Atlantic Ocean. It wasn’t until I got here that I learned what the world is all about. It’s about being here and learning from the ground up. Experiencing it for yourself and living every minute of it. It’s about challenging your own beliefs and prior knowledge and changing your perspective on things you’ve never thought about. And, it’s about finding that independence to do it on your own.

Same Fish, Different Perspective
~ Stephanie Stokes, The Impatient Traveller

Thanks to Stokes for this awesome post. I especially love the last few sentences. "It's about being here..." It's such a basic thought - but you certainly can't learn from a place or an experience if you never go there to experience it! You know what else I love? I love that she refers to her apartment as a "flat" and gives the temperature in Celsius. Isn't she fancy? Isn't she the bee's knees? Isn't she amazing? (I knew you would agree.)

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