By Stephanie Corrigan
I look around at the international students in my classes and around campus and I am overwhelmed by the feeling that they are on a great journey. I know this feeling well and am excited for all the adventures and new knowledge my international peers will experience in their studying here from abroad. And for my soon to be peers, perhaps getting ready to jump on a plane and arrive at USC for the first time, let me share some of my fears and triumphs when I was the person from another land.
As some well-versed travelers will tell you, one of the best feelings in the world is that moment of victory when you realize you have reached your target destination. Though there are merits to getting lost and enjoying an off-the-beaten-path adventure, there is pride to be found in navigating your way through winding roads, complicated subway line systems, and inevitable misunderstandings with the local population with little to no effort. Unfortunately, I am not this kind of traveler. Last summer marked my second backpacking trip abroad, but the first of which I traveled solo. As a young female traveler, I had many fears and doubts before my first flight to East Asia. I hopped on the plane with extremely limited linguistic knowledge of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. To say this was a daring, whirlwind venture for me is an understatement. However, I felt I needed to push the boundaries of my comfort zone, so I refused to let myself back down from the challenge that awaited me. Looking back now, I am incredibly grateful for the transformative experience I received. I learned more about the people and cultures of China, Japan, and South Korea than I ever could have by reading a book. From trying xiaolongbao in Shanghai to spending too many hours stuck in the labyrinth of Tokyo Stations, I became more culturally competent and self-aware than ever before.
Since returning home, I have had plenty of other interested backpackers ask me about going solo. While there are undeniable risks to traveling alone as a young female, I believe the benefits far outweigh any of those fears. More often than not, people will bend over backwards to help you, going the extra mile to show you where your hostel is or to purchase the correct train ticket for you. In Japan, a man bought me a special type of tea, telling me that I need to understand “how important tea is to the Japanese people.” In South Korea, a hostel worker taught me key phrases to employ in my adventures around Seoul. These are just two of the innumerable moments that I had the good fortune of experiencing this summer.
If you are venturing out to a new country for the first time, do not let any fear, anxiety, or self-doubt stop you from pursuing this fulfilling goal. Travel will always be a bit intimidating at the start, as it is a fear of the unknown that plagues us all. Nonetheless, immersing yourself in an unfamiliar and foreign environment is the best way to conquer your jitters.
Featured image is author’s own
Stephanie is an USC graduate who studied Political Science. She is from Orlando, Florida and loves to spend time outside, whether hiking or exploring a new city, as well as practicing her photography, writing in her travel blog, or planning her next backpacking trip abroad. She discovered an interest in working with foreign exchange students through her study abroad experience in Turkey the summer after her junior year of high school. She is interested in learning foreign languages, as well as better understanding cultures different from her own.