“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never
go back to its old dimensions.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes
It may have been last year or forty years ago, but I expect your first international trip was a life milestone. Were you among the early waves of students spending a summer or academic year exploring Europe with a Eurail pass and backpack? Or perhaps your honeymoon introduced you to the wonders of a daily life unlike the one you enjoyed growing up. Maybe you have only recently used your first passport and treasure the smudged stamp admitting you to another world, and another one marking your return. Or maybe your first trip was in uniform and on Uncle Sam’s tab. That would seriously affect the color of your memories, and I hope you have had many chances to expand the view since then.
Whatever the reason or timing of your first trip abroad, that initiation brings new insights and wonders to the life experience bank. How else can you viscerally understand heat, humidity, cold, or altitude which people of other parts of the world consider “normal”?
My first trip out of the US was a summer study program in England. Our group flew on the brand new 747s operated by British Air (BOAC at the time) and arrived at Heathrow after a weather delay. We went straight to Stonehenge, walking among the stones in a fog of jetlagged amazement. We spent the next ten days touring England, Wales, and Scotland before settling into Trinity College, Oxford, for a six week term. (It’s hard to fathom now but my class was on Andrew Marvell and John Donne. Golly.) Most of the group were English majors like myself. When our tour guide casually mentioned that we were passing Tintern Abbey, we surprised him by insisting that we stop to see the place which anchored Wordsworth’s “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey.”
But it wasn’t all old literature we absorbed. After a few days on the road we took to singing “We all live in a yellow-green bus” to the tune of “Yellow Submarine.”
The summer lives vividly for me still. I learned to ask for my tea black (before they added milk and sugar). I got used to looking left first for oncoming traffic, and to riding a bicycle on the left side of the street, with a rubber band holding my bell-bottom jeans away from the chain. The UK was just changing currency to the New Pence (100 to the pound), but most coins were still marked with the older pence and shilling denominations. My working knowledge of how many pence make a shilling, and shillings to a pound (or a guinea!) has helped me understand many old stories.
Traveling to the UK is a wonderful first trip abroad. The history, customs, and even the language are mostly familiar, and yet everything is different. Many of you have doubtless been bolder than this young girl from the prairie, jumping into the deep end with travels to Scandinavia, Japan, or Thailand. It’s all good, and I hope you wouldn’t change a bit of it – except maybe that bug you picked up in Morocco!
What was your first trip abroad? And what is your favorite memory? I would love to hear it!
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
31 March 2016