I began this voyage with lofty ideals, high hopes, and (I admit it) stars in my eyes. “We’re going on a peregrinatio,” I exclaimed. “We’re going to learn so much and it will be grand!”
Yes, well. Six months later, I’m back home. I put on a couple pounds of muscle, have really beat-up feet, and if I’m lucky will dream in Spanish once in a blue moon. Inner change is more subtle, and if you read other bloggers’ thoughts on reverse culture shock and how travel changed them, a common theme is that some days, it seems like nothing has changed. Rarely are there huge revelations in life that alter your greater course. But there are little things, here and there, that show me that my perspective on life has shifted.
Jordan and I hoped this trip would teach us about ourselves and each other, as well as show us how to draw nearer to God. And I do believe it has done that. This trip, this adventure, put us in stressful positions, which revealed our character, both to ourselves and one another. While it is tempting to be in the middle of an argument in Spanish over how badly I need a bathroom and think, everything will be better once I get home, it’s not true. Home has its own share of problems, mostly because the problems reside inside ourselves, not out in the world. Our issues, baggage, and problems are not created by stress, but revealed by it. At the risk of sounding shallow and cliche I will repeat Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”
It’s a shame, but it’s true. This trip has forced us multiple times to look in the mirror and say, “I am the one creating the problem. I was wrong to ________, and I need to take care of my own reactions to the scenario at hand, and then the anger and much of the stress will disappear.”
And, yes, that happened. We discovered flaws in Jordan that neither of us liked. We found defects in my character also that we think need to go. We have been able to take stock of ourselves, our relationship, and see it from a different angle, thanks to the backpacking trip, and discover what strengths we create in our marriage, together, as a unit. This better understanding of ourselves helps us know what unpleasant issues we bring into our marriage (because, let’s face it, we’re all human and we all sin), as well as what unhealthy emotional habits we want to break before we pass our flaws down to our unsuspecting children. We all pass baggage down to our kids, but there’s a big difference between a hatbox and a freight container. I’m aiming for the hatbox. And hoping to nip hurtful behaviors in bud, at 3 years of marriage, rather than at 20 years, when most people look over their relationships.
Personally, I also think I have grown more flexible. If you’ve met me, you know I’m a little type-A and enjoy planning things. We went to two cultures (Arabic and Latin American) that, well, don’t. My sister and I joked that cinco minutos means when I feel like it, manana means someday, and luego means never. So I got pretty good at last-minute changes, making plans ten minutes before we get on the bus, and going by word of mouth on important decisions. It was not easy at first. But now I think I can go with the flow a little better and adjust expectations (and Lord knows I need help with my expectations). Fumbling through Spanish also taught me a bit of humility and confidence at the same time. I learned quickly that I am not as intelligent and skilled as I like to believe, but gaining the knowledge and wisdom of another language over time also showed me what I can become.
This whole adventure in backpacking wasn’t always the ideal situation. There were countless sleepless nights on buses, and I went five days with 14 hours of sleep once. I almost had a crying, emotional breakdown twice during that stretch. But I made it!–through a lot of prayer and trust, I made it. Adventure isn’t supposed to be easy, otherwise it would be called a tea party. And anything, really, can be an adventure, with the right outlook, so I learned that my attitude dictated how the day went more than the external circumstances (unless we missed a bus and were stuck in town for three extra days waiting for the next bus. Then it was external circumstances). I hope this trip has made me a more positive person–not one that ignores the sad, frustrating things in life, because that’s called denial and is unhealthy–but a person that can appreciate the joy and goodness more fully because of the bad things that happened previously.
Trusting God, also has been a huge theme throughout our trip. Being young, nearly-broke, and in a new place puts people in vulnerable situations, as most of us in our 20s will readily tell you, and in these vulnerable places Jordan and I have found we seek God more and lean on Him faster. This trip put us in foreign countries where our broken Spanish had to suffice, constantly moving from place to place, and always on a very strict budget. God provided and protected us through the whole trip, and we’re immensely grateful for it. Our trust in Him grew on the trip, and I hope that our faith continues now that we’ve returned to familiar, comforting things in our own country.
I have learned so much from this trip (from Norwegian grammar to making yucca bread to using the bathroom in an open field without a wall for support and my jeans keeping my legs close together) that warrants its own post, but this is long enough for now.
On your trips, what have you learned? What other times of stress have you encountered that made you a better person today?