Saturday, June 30, 2012

5 Things I Could Not Leave Home Without

When looking for study abroad scholarships, I came across one that asked for a list of the five things I wouldn't study abroad without. At first I ran through my ever-faithful mental packing list, a bunch of non important physical items: toothbrush, clean underwear, silk scarf, passport (duh Sharlene, you can't go anywhere without your passport!)

I also realized that I don't have any real sentimental items, except for a box of random photos and ticket stubs that wouldn't be of much use in a Ghanaian village. But there is no lucky teddy bear, family heirloom, or anything else that holds much significance to me.

Then I thought about what really comes in handy when I'm abroad and rustled up a list of things that cannot be contained in a suitcase, a ziplock or backpack.

1. Courage

One thing that I’ve learned in my pervious travel experience is that it takes a tremendous amount of courage to leave it all behind. My family, my friends, my world as I know it. Out of fear that I may seem like a self interested narcissist, I understand that I wasn’t born with this courage; no one is. I’d like to think it was given to me by my life long anchors, my creators, my parents.  
2. Memories

Whether in the form of an old journal or my biological hard drive (my brain), memories are an important keepsake that can pull me out of any slump, feeling of doubt or homesickness. I find them handy in all times of need, not just when I feel down. Funny, quirky, strange, even bad ones. Refection is useful when embarking on any kind of journey to separate where I’ve been, where I am and where I’m going.

3. Values

In my case, my values are not connected strongly to any religion. Despite my spiritual skepticism, I was instilled with core values: to work hard, respect myself and respect others. These have been in my back pocket since childhood and have traveled with me ever since. 

4. “Common sense”

I am a big fan of attribution and in this case I have no idea who to credit for what my mother calls “common sense”. On one hand I think it is the quiet confidence my family places in my ability to take care of myself. On the other, I think it is a natural/biological instinct that helps me sense danger or anything that isn't helpful to my current situation. The jury is still out on its origin, but I never leave home without it.

5. Gratitude

Especially during my travels, I recognize that it took a village of family, friends and institutions including my university to give me all of these keepsakes that I couldn’t leave home without. With every ounce of my being I am grateful for the sacrifices that people have made on my behalf, not only monetarily which is a major obstacle that I continuously hurdle with help from scholarship organizations and my university, but with their time, effort and kindness.

Mt. Fushimi Inari - Kyoto, Japan

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