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Reflections on Student Group Travel

Student group travel blogger Kandace Little leaves us with her last post of the semester, a realization and reflection.


One day during my semester abroad of educational group travel, I was at a bus stop in Maastricht, the Netherlands, loaded down with a backpack and the dreary, early morning fog. I was feeling a bit isolated, despite the group around me. I was on the outskirts, huddled and drawn into my own thoughts.

 

Just one of those days, I guess.

I happened to glance to my left, and my gaze met a woman with closely cropped hair, wearing sensible but scuffed brown shoes. She was dressed in simple attire, face bare of a stitch of makeup; this wasn’t too momentous. What was strange about this woman was that as she stood on the sidewalk, waiting for her bus, both hands were splayed out into the air above, desperately waving and waving at unknown target across the street. This wasn’t a quick wave, the kind you do when you’re in public and you see someone you think you know, then realize it’s a complete stranger, and play it off like a dramatic gesture to fix a stray strand of hair. No. She was fully enraptured with the task at hand. Initially, I was a bit thrown off. Initially, I wanted to glide a bit to my right, slink away from this clearly crazy individual experiencing bout of crazy hands.

A flash of guilt crept into my conscience for these judgmental thoughts, so I smiled bashfully in her direction, a modest inquiry into how her day had begun.

 

Admittedly, she seemed taken aback. She briefly paused her arm debacle and surveyed the situation and the stranger breaking the silence of the crowd: a lanky girl with flyaway hair and a nose ring, huddled over from the weight of a battered, misshapen backpack.

“That’s my mom over there.” She gestured across the street to an apartment complex I hadn’t paid much attention to on prior bus stop visits. Upon closer inspection of the building, squinting into the grey mist, I noticed the outline of a frail figure standing at the window. She was still, intent to complete some sort of mission unbeknownst to myself.

“She likes to make sure I can find the bus stop, and she won’t leave the window until she sees me here. Her sight’s not so good so I try to make myself stand out over here.” The woman’s wrinkled face broke into a jovial expression, “though I’m from here and never get lost on the way.”

She continued to explain that her father had recently passed away, and she had stayed with her mother the past week to keep her loneliness at bay, at least for a short while.

I guess this little moment doesn’t seem like a big deal, and I suppose it wasn’t really. It did get me thinking, though, about people in general, and how we interact with them on the daily—how we fail to interact with them at all.

Often we crave a new location, a new place to “check in” on Facebook and check off our personal to do lists of places to go and see. We overlook the people. We overlook their hands in our lives and how their existences enrich our own.

So I guess that’s what I have to say about my student group travel abroad experience.

There is so much to learn, so much to see, but it’s too easy to overlook the important things.

I’ve harped on the fact that adventure can be found anywhere, and that we all need to live life to the fullest… all that cliché stuff. But honestly, whenever we meet people in new places, we meet novel bundles of potential to enrich our lives in ways that would not have been realized before whatever novel place we thrust ourselves into. Because, think about it:

We are all influenced by the places we’ve been.

Emotionally, physically, all that jazz, so whenever we meet someone, we glimpse of where they’ve been, and who they were while they were there. We taste a bit of what they’ve experienced… but, you know what? That only happens if we allow it to happen.

 

That only happens when we’re brave enough to open our hearts to our fellow man and accept what they have to offer.

Even through a seemingly inconsequential handshake, or conversation about the weather, you’re glimpsing into another’s way to communicate and connect to their fellow man. That says a lot about what they’ve seen and done and lived throughout their lives. We can adventure simply through meeting another person.

It’s an incredible thing, really. To live in a world so easily accessible. To meet someone, brush fingertips with an alternate reality that we could not have accessed on our own. In hindsight, I didn’t do it enough. I didn’t make enough real eye contact with people I encountered over my trip. I didn’t reach out enough with people I even traveled with; but that’s the thing about student group travel, educational travel, and travelling abroad in general.

That’s what you learn. That’s what I finally landed on that’s important about life: Meet people, guys. Really meet them.

I’m not talking about exchanging names or email addresses, or Instagram accounts; look at someone and really look. To see. To understand. See someone as an individual who can teach you something about living your own life better.

We’re all on that pursuit of happiness, all trying to achieve it in ways that seem to align with our own hearts, but that can only be achieved through a bit of self-reflection enlightened with the help of our friends, and new friends we meet along the way of this tumultuous Earth we pace on the daily.

We just have to be open the prospect that new friends can be in forms we never could have anticipated, a stranger with the same train reservation, or the random roommate assignment you were a bit nervous about from the get-go.

Or maybe a random woman at the bus stop. A woman with enough devotion and humility to stand with arms outstretched in the middle of the sidewalk, acting a fool all for her mother’s sake.

Stay gold, y’all.

 


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