Abalu: The importance of travel


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Columnist Abalu believes that there is no substitute for the value of international experiences.

Omo Abalu

Being able to communicate with people from around the world is a key skill I believe everyone should possess. Iowa State University is a great place to start developing this skill because there are so many people from around the world here.

I was born in Ethiopia and I grew up there for about nine years. I went to an International Community School where there were students from virtually every country. From a very young age, I already started learning about different people because I lived in a diverse environment. I learned how to respect and tolerate people from other cultures, no matter how different we were.

I moved to Nigeria with my family in 2003 and I had to adjust to life in a different setting. I remember learning the Nigerian national anthem and the Hausa language. I went to boarding school for six years and I learned about the vast differences of people from different parts of Nigeria.

I was used to watching American and European movies and picturing what life might be like in the U.S., which eventually led me to coming to the university here. Of course, we cannot believe everything we see on TV, but I had to start from somewhere. Many movies depicted America as a perfect country where everything was in order and life was so much easier. I was excited to experience this paradise.

Now arrives the importance of traveling in order to experience what life is like in other countries.

I came to the U.S. and discovered it is not really the literal paradise I pictured in my mind from watching all those movies and reading all those books. Life was indeed not as easy as I thought.

One thing I have learned from being in the U.S. is that a great majority of people have to work very hard to be successful. Things do not come so easily to people who do not work hard to achieve their goals or dreams.

But sometimes I wonder how many people in the U.S. know about other countries.

In a 2011 CNN article by Natalie Avon, a report showed that 30 percent of U.S. citizens own passports. Maybe that number has increased during the years but it also shows that many Americans do not travel out of the country very often.

I have always felt that the U.S. passport is the key to the world. U.S. citizens can travel more freely because they do not need visas most times. I, on the other hand, would have to go through a rigorous process of documentation to obtain visas to travel to other countries. Although this may be discouraging to some, I still went out of my way to visit places like Mexico and Ghana, and I even plan on studying abroad in France.

Many people tell me that I am already studying abroad, so there is no need to travel. This is why it is good to experience some things yourself. Relying solely on media and what people tell you might not be enough. Imagine if I never visited the U.S. and I stuck to the idea that America is so perfect, based off of what I saw on television.

I have heard that French people are snobs, but I cannot rely solely on what I have heard and judge an entire group of people based on the ideas of others. It would be nice to experience the people for myself, so I can learn about them and confirm or dismiss whether they are actually snobs.  

The CNN article also stated how “Americans are comfortable in their own environment.” An international traveler, Matthew Kepnes, commented on the article saying, “Breaking outside anything that is your norm is scary. Our culture does not emphasize knowledge of the world. We’re more skeptical of it because we just don’t know about it.”

I agree with this to an extent, but if we do not break away from what we are used to, we limit our knowledge and scope of how we perceive people and things from other parts of the world.

Timothy Tesar works at the ISU Admissions Office and deals closely with International Students. He has traveled to numerous countries where he serves as an advocate for Iowa State and helps in recruiting students from around the world.

Getting out of one’s own comfort zone and experiencing new things is the best way to broaden one’s horizons,” Tesar said. “If you never leave your own community, you will have a very narrow view of the way the world works.” 

As college students, I know our budgets might limit our traveling capabilities but there are different methods to gain awareness.

You can start by watching the news and learning what is happening around you.

You can even keep it simple by traveling to different states in the U.S. New York, for example, is so diverse that it feels like there are 10 different countries all in one place. Experience a different side of the U.S. and try to see how people live differently from you.

You can befriend people from other countries and learn about them and their cultures. You can compare it to your own and you will appreciate your differences.

You can participate in one or more of the numerous study abroad programs. Some departments offer scholarships and financial aid for these trips. Take advantage of the opportunities.

Being able to experience different cultures helps you understand and learn more about the things that go on around the world and it will also help you appreciate your own culture. We should all expose ourselves to things we might not know. Ask questions, explore and educate yourselves about the differences this world has to offer.