Traveling to Italy, I expected that something about the way I view the world and my own life would change. That’s what is supposed to happen. I was ready to embody Mary Anne Radmacher’s quote: “I am not the same having seen the moon shine from the other side of the world,” but there is really no way to prepare yourself for that kind of change.
Sometimes you can feel something inside you shift. Maybe you even go through a brief existential crisis as you try to comprehend the beauty you are witnessing. For me, this happened when we took an elevator to the top of the Altare della Patria, in Rome. As I stood on the rooftop, overlooking the ruins of the Roman Empire, I couldn’t stop looking at the Colosseum. It was swarmed with tourists posing for a quick picture in front of the World Wonder, and then continuing on. Being so high up, my mind wandered to how the Colosseum was built. It bewilders me how something could have been built five hundred years ago and manage to bear countless storms and survive numerous earthquakes (well, for the most part). We could also see the place where Cesar is rumored to have died. Suddenly, this individual that seemed little more than a mythical hero transformed into a historical figure in my mind. I wish I could find the words to describe the pure ecstasy and wonder I felt in that moment, but I know that words will undoubtedly fail.
Other times, the change creeps into your heart and seems to be dormant, until one day you look back and realize how much you have grown. It is a more subtle type of change, but it is one that molds you into the person you are. I’ve had some time to reflect on my trip, and I realize that Italy changed my perspective on how accessible the world is. Statistically speaking, I am not someone who is likely to study abroad. According to a study done by the Institute of International Education, non-white students make up around 40% of college students in the US, but only the 24% participate in study abroad programs. When socio-economic circumstances are taken into consideration, even fewer students travel internationally from low-income families. Aside from study abroad programs, the idea of visiting another country seems extremely daunting, especially if you are planning the trip yourself. However, while in Italy, I realized that it is completely possible to plan a trip that is fun, informative, and not overwhelmingly expensive. It really is one world, but it takes an experience like this one to understand what one world truly means.
The more you travel, the more you realize the importance of building bridges, and the dangers of building walls. How dull would life be if the only lifestyles you were exposed to were the ones you and the people immediately around you lead? Understanding the world beyond our own community and nourishing our sense of humanity should be a goal for all of us. It’s hard to understand the sorrows and triumphs of people who live in a place you have only heard of, but when you visit that place and interact with those people, you become invested in their well-being.
It’s easy enough to condemn walls, but it’s harder to actively promote the creation of bridges. In our current political climate, indifference is inexcusable. That doesn’t mean that you have to participate in every rally and sign every petition. Advocacy means something different for everyone. Maybe it’s talking to someone who comes from a background you have never been exposed to. Maybe it means searching for opportunities like the Wandering Scholar to travel. However you chose to create your own bridges, the important thing is that you do so wholeheartedly.
Going back to what Radmacher’s said, when I close my eyes, I see the moonlight dancing on the restless Venetian water. That image, along with countless others from the ten days we spent in Italy, is a testament to that fact that I am not the same. I am more confident. I am braver. Most of all, I am more optimistic that we can build a world in which our differences are celebrated, not feared.