I have had a lot of experiences working in different parts of the world, with people from more than 50 different countries. Every experience gave me different insights. More importantly, every experience came with questions that challenged my biases and prejudices, liberating me from them. I saw how we humans were all similar, though we were raised under different circumstances. Nothing good or bad about anything; they were just my perceptions.
Every place and its people were different. Whether it was the sophistication of California, the purity of Morocco, the exuberance of India, the beauty of Europe, the history of Egypt or the struggle of Cambodia and Vietnam, every place told me a different story. More importantly, every place showed a side of me that I was unaware of.
I left Kathmandu, for the first time, eight years ago. Till date, I have traveled across 20 countries and led the Indian chapter of world’s largest youth-run organization. In this process, I have been able to recreate the way I see my life. This experience of mine induced by traveling has been one the most transformative and liberating elements of my life.
Growing up in Kathmandu, I had developed two tendencies: I used to be extremely uncomfortable in uncertain environments and I used to believe that everyone apart from my family is somehow against my life direction. These tendencies had largely impacted the way I lived. However they kept on shifting for the better as I traveled.
In 2015, I was working with a group of 10 individuals representing 10 different countries in Netherlands. We were working on the Global Roadmap for AIESEC. Our team leader from Russia, for whom I still have deep admiration and respect for, started our journey by saying, “Different is just different”. It was just a statement, however, as we progressed we realized what she meant. Before, I believed people would be against me in some way or the other as they were not part of my family. On the contrary, I got to share amazing camaraderie with all of those amazing individuals.
I did not feel the need to talk about anything unnecessary or pretend with the fellow from Seychelles or from Egypt to be good friends with them; neither had to find things we hated with the nerd-looking guy from USA or the wonderful ladies from Australia, Russia or Turkey to fit in. We just co-existed respecting each other’s opinions and focusing on the direction, we all were headed towards. This experience drastically changed my perception about my relationships with people. Upon coming back, I practiced tolerance as I did there and it improved my relationships with my cousins, friends and saw people under a new light, different from my own previous prejudices.
During July of 2016, I was working on a conference in Antalya, Turkey. We were wrapping up our work for the day when suddenly one of the attendees muttered, “There is a Coup”. Chaos shrouded the room and people started panicking. Some of us talked to the hotel staff and they assured us to provide food and shelter until the situation was under control. All of us there were holding on, hoping that the entire thing was a hoax. As I sat on my bed, I put my passport and phone in one pocket and money in the other. There were too many thoughts and scenarios in my head. I did not know what would happen next. This incident gave me a wonderful insight about life: Our acumen to deal with uncertainty is crucial. The next morning, things were better. However, I still remember the day, the chaos and it gives me hope to go through my life no matter what hardships may come in my way. I currently am involved in post-earthquake reconstruction works where we build houses in the rural areas of Nepal. Every day we face new challenges, but my Turkish experience gives me hope that we will overcome it somehow.
When we travel, our travel experiences let us see what we could become in different circumstances. We are all the same. It’s just the difference in perspectives and circumstances that changes our reality. Rather, it is adulterated by our judgments, biases and preconceived notions through which we define our version of reality. I wish you travel to see within.
Traveling has always led to discoveries. In the past, voyagers traveled across foreign lands seeking greener pastures, exploring better places to live or to conquer new territories. Today, travel has multiple reasons depending on our preferences. It is encouraging more people to set on their own journeys towards discoveries of their own kind.
China alone created more than 20 million international trips in 2016. Elon Musk recently proposed a travel imagination which could land us anywhere in the world in less than an hour. In near future, technology might even take us to a point where our understanding of time and space will be challenged. World might come closer, blurring cultural and geographical boundaries. I have a question to end with: What did you discover about yourself the last time you traveled?
Alok is the Co-founder of Creative Services and works as a leadership trainer with teams across different parts of the world.