(Currently teaching English in Istanbul, Turkey)
“Participating in the Journey East program will infect you with the travel bug.” I heard this many times as I applied to Journey East. Unsure of the exact meaning of these repeated words as they sifted through the air, I submitted my essays and applications anyway.
Upon acceptance, I came to discover that the Journey East program was unlike any other. It was one that provided experiences of a lifetime, one that I frequently revisit, through memory, photographs and friendship. I still connect with the friends that I made in Inner Mongolia (in fact I showed a video of one of my Inner Mongolian friends dancing to my elementary students, illustrating the beauty of art through culture). I still connect with friends that I roomed with from neighboring Vermont schools, friends whom I wouldn't have met otherwise. I feel forever connected to my teachers, peers and our international collaborators, as we shared moments that could only have been lived with them through Journey East. I often revisit the memories and photos from our performances, our adventures through temples and across the Gobi Desert (a bottle of sand from which still sits in my bedroom, nearly 10 years later).
As I travel and meet people who have spent their entire lives internationally, I am realizing how unique my opportunity to travel abroad to China and Inner Mongolia through the Journey East program was. It was one that opened my eyes to true “cultural awareness.” The program brought us together through dance, cultural exchange and exploration. It took me outside of the small world that I knew (one that extended as far as the great Burlington, Vermont and back again). Journey East showed me a way of living that I had never known. It took me to a place that I was extremely fortunate to have known and truly changed my life in many ways, all of which for the better.
Now, as I reside in my home abroad, where traveling across borders is a simple weekend trip, I feel as though I have come to understand the true meaning of “being infected by the travel bug.” Thank you Journey East for “infecting me” and for showing me the beauty of our big, wide world.”