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The most important thing travel gives is perspective


Although I had already chosen which movie to watch, I spent the first hour or two of my flight to Dublin staring out of the plane window. From the sky, the United States was just a scatter of thousands of tiny lights. In places in which the lights were denser, I could make out some streets and highways, but there were always spots without any lights shining. In the night, it was difficult to tell whether these areas were uninhabited land or bodies of water. Nothing about the pitch black masses was distinguishable. By the time we were flying over New Jersey, all I could think about was the fact that I was on my way to a foreign country when there is so much I haven’t even seen of this one. Hours later, when I opened my window again, all that could be seen was water. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time made me aware of how big the world really is.

Not only is the size of the Earth huge, its population is as well. I am only one of roughly 7 billion people on this planet. Over 99% of them exist outside of my own personal sphere, something that still somewhat surprises me every time I hear an Irish accent. For some reason it’s so weird for me to think that people live here, have grown up here, have family and friends here, and just as they have no importance to me, my life means nothing to them. If either of us were to die tomorrow, the other wouldn’t even blink. That sounds really depressing, but it’s true. Basically every single person I have passed on the street here, I’ll never see again. Being around so many different people in a completely different country just kind of put things in perspective for me. I don’t mean to seem pessimistic; it’s just something to think about. Really realizing how big the world is and how many people are on it has forced me to step away from self-absorption.

In turning my attention from myself, I think about the people I’ve met in my short amount of time here. My mind immediately turns to Imar, the first person we met in Ireland. I initially saw him as someone whose only responsibility was to get us settled in at Trinity College. But now, after seeing him laugh with friends in the courtyard, I’m conscious that he has a life outside of catering to Dublin’s visitors. This image of him is almost identical to one of me and my friends on the quad at JMU. I realize that though we live over 3500 miles apart, he’s a student and a friend, just like me. I think of our waitress at Bruxelles on the first night. Her low wage job, with long, late hours, dealing with hungry, impatient tourists, is probably her one method of getting by. I am reminded of the jobs I’ve had working in restaurants. I understand the patience it takes and a new respect for her is formed. Although it’s not customary to leave tips here, I decided to slide her an extra euro while checking out. In an instant, she becomes more than just a server in a pub. She’s a person, and a hardworking one at that.

I think of Derrick, the old man I met at a church in Dalkey. At first, he was just a figure in the back pew, someone I tried not to disturb while I snapped pictures of the altar. As he was leaving, he came up to us and introduced himself. He smiled, held our hands, and winked as he told us about the old tradition to make a wish the first time we enter an Irish church. I can still see the laugh in his eyes when he advised us to wish for a handsome, Irish boy with a nice car. He gave my hand a squeeze informed me that all I needed to get a boy’s attention was to smile, “If that doesn’t work, keep walking. He’s not worth it and there are plenty more.” I reminisce on how he told us all about his daughter living in New York City as an actress. It hits me that he has a family, a wife and a daughter that mean the world to him, just as my mother and brother mean everything to me. The shadowy figure I first simply noticed as part of the background turns to flesh: living, breathing, and loving.

I think of Olivia, a girl I met in Dublin while on my search for a late night snack. She noticed my accent and was overjoyed to be talking to someone from “the States.” We exchanged names, to which she responded, “Carlin. That’s so American! I love it,” and begged me to add her as a friend on Facebook. In my memory of this teenage girl I see a younger version of myself, roaming around past curfew with my friends. I want to tell her to listen to her parents, to stay in school, and to promise that the drama of high school years will pass. I think of Brian, our bus driver to Cork. He kindly pointed out the safe and unsafe areas of Dublin “for you ladies” to walk through at night. On our way, he told us about how he grew up in a town just outside of Dublin. I imagine him as a little boy, playing in his yard, with a mother and father looking over him from the front window. I imagine him now. Maybe he’s a father himself, watching his son play where he used to, giving his daughter the same advice that he gave us about safely walking home, supporting them by driving us to our next destination.

I think back to Glendalough, where we stopped on our way to Cork. While walking through the park, we came across the Monastic City. Instead of buildings, the streets of this city were lined with endless rows of graves. As I walked past the countless headstones, the dates going back hundreds of years, I read a few names engraved on them. John and Elizabeth Kean, a husband and wife buried together. William J. Hatton and James Hatton, father and son buried side by side. Annie and Myles Conway, father and mother buried together, their headstone erected by their children. Several families have been putting their loved ones to rest here for centuries. All these people lived and died in the area. Their history was born here, and from the fresh flowers laid on many of the graves, it seems to be continuing. This awareness makes me wonder if I have relatives buried here. Thus, I kept an eye out for Walsh, my grandmother’s maiden name. Though, I didn’t spot any tombstones bearing the name, I still feel a connection to these people. I consider the fact that the birth of my family history could have taken place here as well, and that I might be keeping it alive from abroad.

With my thoughts on Glendalough, I remember the Russian cross-country team we met there. In meeting them, the world seemed to both grow and shrink simultaneously. Though our two groups are from completely different parts of the world, and had major language barrier problems, we had one thing in common. We are both foreigners to this country, both visiting Glendalough as strangers rather than natives. We attempted to explain that we are from America, to which they repeatedly said “Russia, Russia!” pointing to the bold, yellow letters on the back of their jackets spelling RUSSIA. When we tried to ask what sport they played, they established that they played “sport.” It was not until later, when we saw them running, that we figured out exactly which one. After getting a few more sentences across with the help of their coach, who was fairly familiar with a few English words, the girls excitedly proposed to all take a “photo!” together. While I was expecting to meet many Irish people on this journey, I never in a million years thought I’d be meeting people from Russia, much less becoming friends with them. Just when I was getting used to acknowledging the worlds of those in Ireland, this group of girls opened my eyes a whole lot wider.

The cross-country team makes me think of the times that I’ve met tourists back home in America. Whether in Washington D.C., Disney World, Busch Gardens, Nags Head, or even Virginia Beach, I’ve almost always run into people visiting from other countries. Being a traveler now too, I wonder if they, like me, had a mother to hug them goodbye at the airport, with an “I love you. Be careful.” Or a brother who, as he was packing to leave for Beach Week, smirked and said, “Don’t get taken.” Or even a boyfriend to kiss their foreheads and say, “Have fun and bring me back some whiskey.” They most likely went through the same goodbyes, hugs, and airport procedures in coming to my continent, which I endured in leaving for theirs. My home had then become their vacation spot, while now my vacation spot is their home.

Reflection

I am most satisfied with the overall theme of my essay. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot since I’ve been here, and I think I conveyed it to the best of my ability. In writing this essay, I wanted to not only get my own thoughts and feelings down on paper, but to hopefully open the eyes of any of its readers. I wanted to capture the concept of the world being bigger than we realize and that there is so much more out there and more to life than what we have already experienced. I tried to portray the images of different people with enough description, but without going overboard. I also used the repetition of “I think of” as a device to help my paper flow from paragraph to paragraph, thought to thought. In writing this paper, I used three drafts. My original draft only contained the first two paragraphs and was used as my piece presented in class last week. I then added another two pages to it for my next rough draft that was peer reviewed in class. Finally, I extended a number of my paragraphs with further descriptions and added a few completely new paragraphs as well. I think the peer response helped shape the outcome of this paper greatly. Both Kelly and Emmie had helpful ideas of what to add and pointed out areas that they thought needed revision.

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