This spring break, I returned to Singapore for a short visit. Last summer my family moved there permanently. I had the opportunity to live with them last summer and now to visit them again. While I have a direct purpose to this traveling, aka to smoother my twin 4-year-old brothers with kisses, love, and gifts, I was struck while preparing to travel on how journey and travel impact our lives especially in this stage of life as a college student. In every stage of my journey, I am refined as a human and become more ‘myself.’
The travel to the destination reminds me that we are all on a journey. As a child, I traveled quite a bit domestically. I remember always dreading the long lines and waiting and worst of all, the security at airports. However, as I travel now, I am painfully aware of those around me. Every human- from the TSA agent to the new born that will doubtless sit next to me-is traveling somewhere; whether their destinations be the same as mine, our paths have crossed in an intrinsic way. I could choose to deplore the actual journey and complain about the lines and time it takes but I would be painfully vicious in this approach. Just as everyone I encounter while traveling is physically going someplace, they are spiritually on a journey as well. As I chat with a fellow passenger, I cannot but notice that this is another human with struggles and questions that I have; we are all trying to figure this life thing out. The question then becomes one of response- how do I respond to the opportunity to meet someone who is on a journey? Reader, how do you respond to those that are on a journey? With hospitality and joy? Or with hostility and alienation? This is a question I need to ask myself every day, as we are all on a journey, but it becomes apparent when it is actualized with physical travel.
When I get to my destination, I must question who I really am. Singapore has a completely different political and social structure. This gives space for me to ask- what makes me myself? Is it the food I eat? The government I submit to? The way I spend my days/my job? I would argue that this is the most important lesson travel equips us with. We are more than the sum of our actions. We are not our jobs, our government, or even our daily habits. When we travel, all of these factors are shifted and we still exist as ourselves. I would even say that when these factors are shifted, it is revealed to us who we are at our core. This is a question especially powerful and pertinent in the student stage of life. As students, I am actively given the opportunity to explore who I am. This compounds the power of travel. Many real adults, those caught up in the perpetual cycle and hum drum of bills and jobs, are immune to the power of travel. Journey is vacation, an escape from the toils of life. While travel is leisure, it is not an escape. Travel makes us more ourselves by removing the factors we think define our lives.
When I return from my destination, I am cannot remain unchanged. I have learned new things, both about the place I traveled to and about who I am. I must reflect on the culture and society that I entered into on my travels. I must ask what is the good and how has this journey redefined my understanding of the good, because it most definitely will. What is on the hearts of the people I have met and the city I have explored. I must recognize that I have been changed and discovered who I am. How does my new-found knowledge influence my daily life? On this particular trip, I am grateful to have my friend, Karen Hughes, to be joining me. This is someone I can process these changes with. Even so, I have found that sharing my stories with others has helped me process the time I have experienced. One of my close friends asked me after this summer, “what do Singaporeans care about? What is on their hearts?” This question has haunted me as I had not been aware of it enough to answer. However, after sharing stories and antidotes, we could answer the question together. The power of stories after a journey is indispensable.
Travel changes us. With the risk of being cliché I would say we never return from a trip. Sure, we come back to the same geographical point on the planet, but we never really come back to the same life. We cannot come back to the same life as we are changed in an integral way. We have stepped into the enigma of travel. We have attempted to unlock the enigma of other cultures and in the process have realized the enigma of our being.