I was cleaning out an old thumb drive and found this short essay I wrote in high school. The assignment was based on the criteria for NPR’s This I Believe segment that ran for four years, engaging listeners to have conversations on their core beliefs that guide them. Though they are no longer accepting submissions, it’s a fun exercise and a worthwhile topic. What do you believe in? You can listen to some of the original essays here: https://thisibelieve.org/essays/fifties/
“Here’s some money. You can tell they really need it,” my mother said.
I remember silently nodding and walking from cup to cup, dropping the coins that sometimes made clinking noises as they hit other coins and sometimes did not make clinking noises because there were no other coins. Some of the people smiled or thanked me or begged for more.
This scene could have happened at home or anywhere in the world, but I was in China, and I was thirteen years old. I had been on several vacations before, but this was my first serious trip that required me to reach a deeper emotional and thoughtful spirit. Though I had been told about the extreme poverty, no amount of conversation could have prepared me for the level of desperation one feels when they lay their sometimes healthy or sometimes sickly child on the street, in order to get money.
My family and I stayed in my hometown, Nanjing, China. Here, I walked on the street where I had been abandoned when I was a sleeping toddler. I saw the police station I had been taken to, and I visited my orphanage. At the Nanjing Social Welfare Institute, the staff introduced me to Fan Da Zhen, my retired nanny. Ten years after I had been adopted, she told me stories of how I loved bright colors and would always follow her around. As I talked to Fan and held babies who were currently in my orphanage, I was reminded of the connection I will always have with China and its people. I think I responded so emotionally to the poverty in China because had I not been adopted, my life could have similar to the ones I had observed during those three weeks.
On my vacations since my first trip to China, I have become more aware of struggling people globally. I have witnessed poverty in the form of illegal vendors in Italy, Romani people in France, hustlers in Turkish bazaars, and a neighborhood of people stretching for six blocks in a breadline in Spain. Traveling has brought me to some remarkable people and reminded me of what a global society I live in. Seeing firsthand how our luxurious lifestyles have impacted the less fortunate people around the world, travel has also challenged my spending habits and increased my desire for awareness on global injustices. My experiences have made me more interested in the world and how it works. Most importantly, travel has deeply influenced the person I am becoming and the person I ultimately want to become.
For me, travel has been an extremely transformative experience, but only because I have made it that way. As a person who has done both luxury vacationing and service traveling, I know there is a distinct difference. However, I believe that even vacationing can be thought provoking. With open eyes to see the surrounding world, an open attitude to accept the challenges, and an open heart to celebrate the culture and people, travel is life-changing; this I believe.