The Power Of Travel

The sun was sinking over the mountains in a brilliant display of orange and pink, and a cold wind blew across the courtyard, making me shiver. I might have been shivering from excitement, because in a few minutes, I would get the chance to learn about the life of someone I truly respected. Claudia Syson, a friend of my parents, has been a mentor and role model to me in the past year. I had thought she was just an ordinary woman, but I soon learned she had an extraordinary background.

About two years ago, Claudia had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to live in China for a month while teaching English with a group of about twelve others. When I found this out, I could not pass up the opportunity to talk with her about her experience.

Through her stories and insight, I discovered how travelling and living among other cultures can change the way we see the world. The evening air had gotten even colder by the time Claudia arrived and we sat down together at an old wooden bench.

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I began by asking Claudia some basic questions to get an idea of her life before her visit to China. Despite how long I had known her, I quickly found I knew woefully little about her past. I had assumed she had grown up in Arizona, but I was shocked when she revealed she was born and grew up in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in South America. After spending the first fourteen years of her life there, she moved to Panama, where she lived for four years.

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She had also lived in various parts of the United States, from frigid Michigan to sunny California.

Always calm and soft-spoken, Claudia did not consider this extraordinary or speak about her unique background haughtily. In fact, she said that she did not realize how it impacted her until much later in life. Almost forty years later, Claudia thoughtfully reflected that growing up in a different place gave her a more open mind than many Americans. “It made me look at other countries as also having good cultures or places to live” she explained, “I didn’t just feel like America did everything ‘right’.” For many who have lived in the same city or state their whole life, this can be a difficult concept to comprehend. Being raised in another region has made it impossible for Claudia to be closed minded, especially after being immersed in other cultures, opinions, and beliefs.

Claudia’s past experiences did not make her immune to fear, however. While preparing for a month of teaching in China, she was worried she would be overwhelmed in such a different environment. She sheepishly told me that she had never been to Asia, so even with a dozen companions, China was a huge step out of her comfort zone. In the end, though, her worries were unfounded. When I asked her what the worst part of her trip was, Claudia’s brow furrowed as she struggled to come up with an answer and finally told me she couldn’t recall anything negative. Her helpful teacher’s aides were always available to translate or provide assistance, making everything go smoothly and calming her anxieties. I could see Claudia’s excitement increase and her smile grow brighter and as she began to reminisce about China and share all her amazing memories with me.

I was eager to learn all the details about Claudia’s trip, and she answered my questions with many memorable stories and highlights. She admitted that teaching was a challenge, since she and her students spoke completely different languages, but in the end was incredibly rewarding. Her students were eager to learn, and even in the short time she was there, Claudia made incredibly close bonds with them. At the conclusion of her trip she was also able to tour Beijing, which was unlike any place she had ever visited. With wonder still evident in her voice, she summed up the city simply as “fascinating.” The history behind the sights in Beijing was incredible, and standing on towering monuments thousands of years old gave her an eye-opening perspective.

She told me it was something that Americans cannot truly comprehend – the amount and depth of history that the city holds. Besides all the incredible sights she saw, Claudia’s favorite part of the trip was the food. She laughed as she recalled the Chinese people worrying that she wouldn’t enjoy it. “I could get used to eating [Chinese] food for my whole life” she said as she described the elaborate – and delicious – meals which she enjoyed with her students. After eating authentic Chinese dinners for a month, Claudia said it was hard to come home and prepare her own simple meals. Through anecdotes such as these, I saw how much Claudia had enjoyed her trip to China, and also how much the experience changed her. China was yet another new place that Claudia was able to learn from and another culture that made a lasting impact on her life.

Much like how Claudia’s early travels had changed her perspective the most, living in China had the greatest effect on the younger members of her group. For her son Levi, who was just seventeen at the time, the trip was a “life transforming” experience. For some of the even younger members, Claudia said they might not realize the impact until years later. Referencing her own past, she told me that travel “does shift your perspective, but it’s not always measurable.” This shift is absolutely worth the sacrifice, Claudia believes. When I asked if she would recommend that others travel, her answer was a resounding yes. She explained that travelling not only broadens the mind, but it puts one in perspective to the rest of the world. The transformation occurs not only inside, but outside as well, as it changes one’s actions and attitude towards others.

The Internet now allows people see and communicate with other counties, but only visiting in person can truly change one’s view. Witnessing other cultures and being exposed to the lives of people in other countries is incredibly necessary, perhaps even more than in the past. With many American’s being so closed-minded today, Claudia wished that everyone could have shared her life-changing experiences. Travelling, especially when she was younger, undoubtedly had a significant and permanent impact on her life. By the time Claudia and I wrapped up our discussion, the sky was dark and millions of stars were showering their brilliant light on us. I thanked Claudia for her time, my mind swirling with new ideas and information.

I began to recall my own time spent in other countries and ponder how travelling as a child has changed the way I look at the world. I was grateful for Claudia’s insight and pleasantly surprised at how it made me look at my own experiences in a new light. Claudia’s adventures in other countries have become a central part of her life, and fueled her belief that travelling is something everyone should do. I wholeheartedly agree, since my own travels have also changed my perspective on life in a meaningful way. I hope that others get the chance to have similar experiences and gain a new awareness of the world beyond their own backyards. Whether it is around the community or around the globe, only travel has the power to open people’s eyes and give them an entirely new outlook on the world.

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The Power Of Travel. (2022, Jan 01). Retrieved from

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