I am a traveler.
I didn’t know I was a traveler until I took my first flight from Virginia to Orlando more than 15 years ago. I’ve been on a flight at least once a year since then. I’ve been hit with the travel bug and have traveled to over a dozen countries in the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and Africa. It’s hard to choose my favorite experience, but let me talk about my first time to Africa.
One of my greatest travel adventures came during a study abroad trip to Kenya. I traveled with a group of students to Nairobi, Naramaru, and Maasai Mara, Kenya. In all three places, I had experiences that I would never have had in America. I was surrounded by people who spoke different languages, ate different food, dressed differently, and valued different parts of life. For many in the group, it was a culture shock, but to me, it was an amazing cultural immersion that I will always remember. Our professor and tour guide urged us to journal every day about our experiences. As I look back, I can see where my eternal spark for travel was lit. I wrote about my feelings of traveling alone in the city on public transportation, my time in the kitchen with our host family, teaching in the village school, and the elephants I saw on safari among other things. I didn’t know it then, but traveling and studying abroad created a deeper appreciation for my own Black American culture.
I push my students to travel because there are some lessons that can’t be learned in your normal surroundings. Traveling made me a more well-rounded individual and more interesting too, since now I have fun stories to tell about my adventures. I hope that if you get the chance, you study abroad in a place that you’ve never been to before in an effort to become more culturally intelligent.
Bon voyage and happy adventuring!
Melencia Johnson is an avid traveler and Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of South Carolina-Aiken.