When I signed up to study abroad in the fall 2008, I knew that it was going to change me. And I wanted it to. I think most people get to a certain point in life and get bored. College is a great excuse to travel because you can get credit for it, and because you can run run as fast as you can away from the third-year slog when you’re sick of the whole school routine, but not ready to graduate.
So there I was, bored out of my mind and ready for something different, something independent, and I’d been wanting to travel abroad for as long as I can remember. So I choose an awesome program through my university that offered optimal traveling opportunities – 3 days of school work, 4 days of traveling each week with a 10-day trip to the destination of my choice. It sounds expensive, and you’re right – it wasn’t cheap. However, it was the best deal out there. It was the cost of a regular semester of tuition plus the inter-continental airfare, a 3-month EuRail pass, a €150 per week stipend for travel costs, and room and board included in the charming Haus Wartenberg [est. 1694.] Yes my friends, it does exist, this beyond-perfect program. I traveled to a grand total of 24 cities in 15 countries in less than 3 months.
But what does traveling abroad really do, aside from letting you escape your normal routine? Why and how did it change me, particularly as a writer and creative?
There are less touristy ways to explore a city, but to me, the museums are one of the best ways. This is the essence of culture and human thought distilled over centuries, passionately portrayed through painting and sculpture, writing, architecture, furniture, and personal artifacts. One of my fondest memories was an afternoon spent at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which houses the most extensive collection of his pieces and personal items in the world. Then, of course, there is the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay in Paris, the Uffizzi and the Accademia in Florence, the Vatican Museum in Rome, the National Gallery and The Tate in London… I could go on.
The opportunity to see this kind of work gave me perspective on the scope of art’s emotional and cultural impact on humanity. Art matters. It is what remains of our legacy long after we are gone.
In that context, and at that time in my life, my perspective on my own writing and art shifted from being a source of anxiety to a source of identity, something to cultivate and be proud of. I still struggle with that concept, but I did come to understand that this is what God made me to do. The instinct to write when I was traveling became a source of solace and therapy, a way to commemorate my thoughts and experiences as I went, and to pay tribute to the artists that I deeply respect.
Have you traveled abroad? What are some of your favorite museums? Pieces of art?
1 : Me in Prague, Czech Republic. October 2008. | 2 : Sculpture heads, the Vatican Museum, Rome. September 2008. | 3 : Fountain outside of the parliament building in Vienna, Austria. September 2008.
[All images were taken by me, Bethany Suckrow, except for my portrait, courtesy of Brenda Ronan.]