WorldStrides Sports’ Nikiah Dulac lays out the everlasting and inspiring impact that comes with perspectives upgraded by time abroad.
When does a travel experience begin? The day you decide to go? The day you actually leave?
And when does it end? When you return home? When you finally unpack your suitcase?
For me, it’s never over. What’s more, I already have dozens of trips lined up for myself in the future, even if they only exist in my mind today.
This is one way I see travel, and it’s a mindset I recommend to everyone, especially to the young student-athletes our programs include every year. In fact, I have a message just for you.
International travel will inspire you. You will make sure your passport never expires. Travel will teach you things about yourself and forever inspire the decisions you make about your future. Travel will test you, too. These tests will build your confidence and independence, and contribute to your sense of self.
A quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes has always stuck with me: “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” I love the power of this message, that there is a correlation between an experience and improvement, that an identity grows from the perspectives it acquires. Throughout the course of your life, you will form perspectives on various things. Those perspectives evolve over time and through experiences, especially new ones, the way you would have once perceived something, will now change as a result of that new experience.
When we experience new cultures, new travel, new food, new climates, new landscapes, new languages, and new perspectives, we embrace “the new” and reflect on it. We truly, uniquely grow in “the new,” when we see ourselves outside of our comfort zones, and big travel, international travel, is an ideal scenario where this plays out.
I was 17 when I first traveled abroad, to play tennis competitively in Fiji and Australia. Among many transformational moments on this trip, Fiji was a particularly unique place that really changed my perspective on the life I lived back home. Something I witnessed with a mother and her two children in Fiji struck me. The mother was washing her laundry by hand in a creek with mucky water, stained brown from a mixture of dirt road and rain. While our large coach bus drove by, she stopped what she was doing, and happily waved her hands “hello.” For all she knew it could have been empty. I thought to myself, “She was so happy and yet, where she was washing her clothes, the water was so dirty. How can she be so happy?” I will never forget the joyful, gracious, and content smile she wore so happily across her face. An instant thought raced across my mind, “I am so very fortunate. I must be more grateful for who I am, where I live, the family that raises me, and the loads of laundry I put through a washing machine. Yet, she exuded so much genuine happiness, too. My definition of happiness must not be the only definition of happiness.” It left me processing throughout the remainder of the time I was abroad, and even when I returned back home. In fact, later that summer, as I began to work on applying to colleges, I ended up writing my college essay on that specific moment in Fiji. It was the first time I realized how much that experience truly impacted me and left me changed.
After college, I eventually worked my way toward a professional career that brought me back full circle with a passion I discovered as that young athlete who competed abroad. Through hard work, perseverance, and determination, my professional work has led me to supporting organizations who emphasize the importance of international experiences. I am now working with an organization that builds these experiences into their culture for their athletes.
One of them is Seacoast United Sports Clubs. With over 10,000 youth players spanning five sports in the New England area, they emphasize today’s importance a players’ commitment to improving their athletic ability and skill, as well as the ongoing lesson of preparing for success beyond the game of sport.
Field Hockey Program Director, Sarah Michaud shares, “Seacoast United Field Hockey trips abroad are the experience of a lifetime for our girls. I feel so lucky that we are able to offer opportunities like this for our athletes to compete at such a high level, while also gaining life experience along the way. The memories and friendships made on our international trips are extremely special. The girls talk about their international experience years after they’ve gone abroad, and have even shared how proud they are to incorporate their experiences in their college essays, or talk about their travels with the college (or college coaches) as they are considering which institution to play for. These are incredible opportunities for our girls.”
Sarah’s colleague, Leah Simpson, Field Hockey Director of Operations, continues, “[these programs] provide young men and women exposure to different cultures, new experiences, and a chance to grow their independence on and off the field.”
It’s not just my experience or those of the student-athletes at Seacoast United to see this impact. Studies across the country support our anecdotes and personal stories.
A University of Maryland study revealed that “96% of surveyed students were more self-confident after an international experience.” A Business Insider study showed that more than “80% of employers think you’re better suited for a job if you’ve been traveling” and that ““traveling not only allows people the space and time to think about what they want to do with their lives and ignite their passions, but also provides them with invaluable skills including increased confidence that will help you to stand out from the crowd.”
Perspective contributes to the definition of self-image, which then influences character and builds individual confidence. Elevated confidence challenges us to seek new heights, like applying for that “reach” college or job.
Travel abroad, whether it’s for athletics or academics or to explore your own interests, impacts your todays and your tomorrows. Memories don’t expire. They grow roots, and with a strong hold on the ground, who knows how far you can grow?