A blog by Jon—the Roaming Husband

Can traveling abroad help one grow as a person? In my experience the answer is: most definitely!

I feel lucky not only to be able to experience and immerse myself in other cultures, but more importantly to learn from them. I am fortunate enough to engross myself in a different culture for many weeks at a time. Amy and I have forged friendships with local business owners in Italy and return to their restaurants and stores every year. The feeling that I get when we are on our way to “our” restaurant in Florence, La Fiaschetteria, is one of overwhelming joy. The owner has remembered us from the first time we went there many years ago. Despite the language barrier, we immediately dive into a mixture of Italian, English, and hand gestures. It is these types of relationships and what I have learned from them that have changed my life…in the best way possible. My most important takeaway has been work/life balance and to work to live, not live to work, but the other positives changes that came from traveling abroad have been numerous.

The number of Americans who hold a passport is growing, but over half of us still don’t have one. Traveling internationally has affected me so positively that this statistic saddens me. I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience new cultures. I realize that financially this may not be a possibility for some, but other factors may stand in the way for others. Some people may be hesitant to put themselves in a situation where they don’t know the language, culture, or lay of the land. These were all concerns for me, too, at first.

Traveling abroad changed my life…but I think it was for the better. If you’re hesitant about getting on an international flight, I hope that hearing the positive ways which international travel has changed me might encourage you to book a trip.

A few lessons I learned:

Patience & tolerance—Growing up I had absolutely no patience. In fact, one of my best friends, Milan, recognized my shortcoming and would tease me by saying, “patience is a virtue gathered through time and effort.” That statement irritated me because I knew he was right! Fast forward to the present and I’m still a work in progress, but thanks to travel I have grown much more patient and tolerant of others.

The Italian lifestyle is far different than that in the United States. For instance, dining in Italy can be an hours-long experience. Unlike the US where servers often rush you out the door so they can flip your table, Italians encourage you to take your time, enjoy the meal, and socialize with your dining companions. The courses of the meal are not rushed, nor will an Italian server just drop the bill off when they think you’re finished. You have to actually ask your server for the check, because they do not want to rush the dining experience. (Their income isn’t based on tips.) The first time this occurred, I lost my patience. I grew annoyed and thought that the server was ignoring us. I had already grown frustrated with the fact that our next dish wasn’t brought to us until we had fully finished the first course (I’ve learned a lot about not ordering too much) and I thought it incredibly rude that we were just finishing our wine and our bill still wasn’t on the table. Now I know that the server was being polite to us by not rushing us and I’ve learned to sit back and enjoy my food, wine, and company.

Michelangelo's David in Florence, ItalyAppreciation for art and history—Don’t tell the Roaming Historian, but I failed History twice in college. I had a hard time gaining any appreciation through a textbook. That all changed the first time I walked around the open air museum that is Rome. Every year I visit Largo Argentina where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. Being able to visit locations like this made history come alive for me! I never was much of an art fan either. But the first time I laid eyes on Michelangelo’s statue of David, I was in awe of its sheer magnificence. The amount of detail is breath taking! And don’t even get me started on the way Raphael was able to make a painting on canvas come to life…it is inspiring to say the least.

Largo Argentina in Rome where Julius Caesar was stabbed and is now a cat sanctuary
At Largo Argentina (now a cat sanctuary)

More likely to try new things—I do the laundry at our house and for years it was always the same—washer then dryer…until we went to Italy where dryers are not standard apartment appliances. As an American, I was a bit put off by the fact that the apartments we rent don’t have clothes dryers. Now, I haven’t used our dryer in the States for over three years; it’s better for our electricity bill and the longevity of our clothes. I think I also learned not to be so judgmental, just because I’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean it is the only good way to do it.

Work to live, not live to work—In the States, the anxiety of waking up for work on Monday morning can cause a lot of people stress. In Italy, I learned that work is something one does to live, but it shouldn’t be the main focus of life. The Italian culture emphasizes family and community. A few years ago our Italian family from Udine visited us in Florence from Friday to Sunday. We asked them what time they were leaving Sunday because of work Monday morning. They would have a several hours-long drive home, so we expected them to leave just after lunch (as we would have done in the States). They weren’t going to cut their visit short just because of work the next day. All they were concerned with was being home by 11 p.m. so they could vote in their local election. Both Amy and I decided then and there that we weren’t going to “live” only on the weekends anymore and would try to follow their example. I’m sure work will always be there for us anyway.

Greater social awareness—I’ve found that people—regardless of their location—generally want the same things: family, friends, health, and happiness. Traveling abroad, I’ve learned that there are great people everywhere. I can’t count the times that a stranger has helped us out when we were lost. Once, Amy and I got on a bus in Florence that took us to a residential area where few people spoke English. Amy hadn’t started learning Italian yet, so we were kind of screwed. One woman went inside her apartment and brought out an English-speaking man who walked us to the right bus stop (at least ten minutes away). Italians have given so much to us that I found myself wanting to know more about their culture and what issues are important to them. Monitoring the state of affairs in more countries than just the US has given me greater social awareness and a broader outlook on the world. I like being a global citizen.

Because of traveling abroad, I see things far differently. It is safe to say that travel has corrected my skewed view of what is really important. I now realize that living life to its fullest is the best option for me. Amy and I agree, that whether at home or abroad,  we just want to live a deep, rich life that is full of as much fun as we can muster. Happy travels!

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