By Heather O.
When I was 15, I lived in Switzerland for the summer. It was life-changing. My German went from bad highschool stumbling to conversational level. My view of the world was turned upside down and blown wide open. I ate a salad fresh from a garden, something I had never done before (my parents, bless their hearts, don’t know a spade from a shovel), and was taught about the beauties of compost for the first time. I vowed then that I would have a compost pile as an adult. It’s no wonder, then, that I knew DH was my soul mate when, during our engagement, he asked, “So how do you feel about compost?”
In college, I did a semester abroad in Dresden, and that was life changing, too. I saw first hand the ravages of WWII (Dresden was firebombed at the end of the war, and 50 years later, there were still buildings that bore the scars), the sins of communism (stories of waiting in line for food, huge industrial tenement blocks that were falling down, no-man’s land near the Berlin Wall) and my conversant German turned into a bonafide second language (I had to give a 20 minute oral report, in German, about semantics in an advanced linguistics course. My heart still quells to think about it).
But these things happened when I was young. Excited. Full of Energy. Less settled in who I was. It was a long time ago.
I think about my time in Haiti, and although it was a profound, shocking, humbling experience, I don’t know if it changed me as much as the earlier experiences did. I watched the younger members of our group change, learn, experience things, and I envied them their youth. I envied them the lessons they would take away, just by virtue of being young. I wondered what kind of people they will be in 15 years, because 20 year olds who go to Haiti to help feed orphans are different than 20 year olds who go to Germany for cheap beer.
I’m bringing this up because our next adventure is looming. In 8 weeks, we are heading as a family to Israel. My husband has a job commitment at Hebrew University, and we’ll be living in Jerusalem for a little over a month. I’m excited and nervous and scared. The Middle East isn’t exactly the place to be right now (we scratched our plans to go to Egypt, for obvious reasons), but we have a contract, so we’re going. But beyond safety issues, I’m scared I won’t get out of it as much as I could. That I’ll squander my time, or spend all of it being worried.
Mostly, I’m just scared that I’m too old to be changed very much.
How have your traveling experiences changed you? How do you get the most out of where you are? I’d love to hear stories about how you take full advantage of new, short-lived, once in a lifetime experiences.
I’d also love tips about Jerusalem, if you have ‘em. Neither my husband nor I have ever been, and while we have more time than the typical tourist, we still won’t be there very long.
Also, anybody have some tips about Arabic? Like I said, I only speak German, and at this point, my German sucks.
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