Rant & Rave: Traveling abroad expands horizons

Jeanette Kendall
Jeanette Kendall

Recently, I attended a Morton Rotary lunch with Morton Times-News editor Nathan Domenighini, who has been a member for three years.

Lauren Colby, 18, presented the program about the year she spent in Thailand through an exchange program.

Colby showed slides and talked about the cultural differences and the home sickness she felt. However, at the end of her presentation she said she wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.

Prior to her making that statement, I was wondering if she felt that way.

That is the way I felt when I decided to sell everything and move to the Netherlands for nine months.

I was older than Colby when the opportunity for me to move overseas presented itself.

I moved in with my cousin (my grandmother is from the Netherlands and lives here in the U.S.).

Initially, like Colby, I was homesick. I experienced the same feelings when I went away to college, but I knew that over time I would adapt better.

My main decision to make such a bold move was to experience something different. I viewed the move as an adventure, an escape.

Living in Holland was not exactly like an extended vacation.

I went to school to try to learn the language and worked nights cleaning an office building.

My mode of transportation was an old bicycle that someone gave me. I rode that rickety thing up and down steep hills in the sun, rain and snow.

It was a major difference for me since I was used to the convenience of my car.

There were other "hardships," such as the language barrier. When I went grocery shopping by myself, it was interesting. I didn’t know what some of the foods were and didn’t understand the descriptions on the box.

One night I made brownies for my classmates, and I had to guess at the measurements since they were Metric.

Although I felt limited due to the lack of transportation and the language barrier, my self confidence grew by leaps and bounds. I was getting along in a foreign country!

I learned some great lessons from my adventure.

I experienced what it felt like to be a minority when I worked cleaning the offices with the Dutch women. I learned that each country is unique and has its own way of doing things and that doesn’t necessarily mean that one country is better than another. But, the greatest lesson was that all types of people can coexist.

At school, there were students from Mexico, Thailand, Russia, Morocco, Iraq and Turkey in my class. I was the only American. We all got along. Even though we had a language barrier, they spoke English with me in the cafeteria. My best friends were from Thailand and Mexico. I shared a candy bar with a guy from Morocco and he talked about his dream of going to America.

We have to step out of our comfort zone to travel abroad, but it opens one’s mind. It helps us learn that we don’t have to fear others who aren’t like us.

Jeanette Kendall is executive editor at TimesNewspapers.