Thoughts from Abroad

By Tom Holland October 5, 2016



I find myself mesmerized by street signs. They are everywhere on earth. Standing and communicating to motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists giving warnings or notifications of what is ahead. But, in each country this is so different.

I find myself unable to get the phrase ‘voila’ out of my mind. I have heard this phrase many times in the United States, but no one has ever used it like our cab driver, Francois, did. Around each corner was a new view and a new perspective. Francois, would make a turn and point, as if he had just pulled a monument out of a hat, and with a zest that might only be described as confident enthusiasm, he would proclaim ‘voila!’ The word has changed for me.

I find my mind boggled by what is ‘old.’ As a former US history teacher living in Wyoming, the homesteader cabins are old. Monticello is really old. Mesa Verde is ancient. Here, those cabins would be referred to as ‘relics of yesterday’, Monticello would be a ‘relic of 2 weeks ago’, and Mesa Verde would be ‘relics of old.’ Time, here, has new meaning.

Travel brings about the uneasiness of that which is unfamiliar. The language barriers. The lack of the common comforts of home. The difference in a stove, a map, a trail, or a meal. The timeless history of a castle or an ancient sequoia that leads us to dream and wonder of times gone by. The opportunity to see something from a different angle: as an outsider, a guest, one foreign to the present surroundings. It is easy for us to find a striking similarity between international travel and wilderness travel.

It is these similarities that drive us to seek out international adventures that will invite our students to see things in a different way. A level of ‘discomfort’ that you get from being outside your normal routine, is something that every WA program offers. An experience where things are foreign, and to make a meal or shop in a grocery store or navigate an airport with your team becomes a simple success to build upon. When we have experiences like this and we see things in this way, our perspective changes. Not only in the confidence we feel in what we can achieve in our normal routine (‘I conquered the Alps on foot, therefore the sky’s the limit’) but also in how we approach a world, which grows smaller and also more grand in the same moment.

Those new feelings are so important for all. Enlightened and empowered, we return to our new normal with a touch of magic inside sprouted from international adventure. It can only lead me to point to the magic and say…