How Traveling To Another Country Changed Me As A Person

Israel Impact Tour // July 2017 // Cover Image Credit: Abbey Burns

Newsflash: America is not, in fact, the center of the universe.

Because so much of the world has adapted to the “American way,” it’s easy to ignore other cultures or even to forget they exist at all. I understand that that may sound stupid and completely uneducated, which it is. But I feel as though Americans live in their little bubbles and rarely allow themselves to step out of it in such a way that forces them to challenge themselves, to open their mind to other cultures and ideas that are drastically different from their own.

When I tell you to travel to a new place, I don’t mean travel to a resort hotel in Cancun and drink margaritas on the beach. I mean, immerse yourself in a culture that makes you sightly uncomfortable. Explore new religions and stretch your mind to think about the conditions and circumstances in which others live.

This past summer, I got the opportunity to travel to Israel for almost two weeks. I’ve never really known much about the current state of Israel; I only knew what I had learned from the Bible. I knew the stories of Abraham and Moses and Jesus, but I had never had an easy time of picturing exactly what it was like. It was hard for me to allow myself to imagine a place where Jesus actually lived.

What I did know was that the countries surrounding Israel aren’t too fond of the little country. There is a great amount of tension surrounding the issue of ownership of land in Israel because God promised the Jews their land which is the land of Jerusalem, but there have been several disputes over who it actually belongs to. Muslims and Jews live very close to each other in the City of Jerusalem, which greatly heightens the tension. When we went there, the Muslim holiday of Ramadan was happening where sometimes Jews even got publicly persecuted by Muslims.

Knowing all of this, I was terrified of the idea of actually going there. I created several ridiculous scenarios in my head surrounding the idea of ISIS and Muslims. I had stereotyped Muslims without even really realizing I was doing it.

When I actually got there, I was mad at myself for spending so much time worrying rather than being excited about the things I was going to see and experience. I immediately became interested in the religions of Islam and Judaism, the war happening in the surrounding countries over religious disputes, and the culture and everyday life of the people living in Israel. I instantly wanted to know everything all at once, and I was so lucky to be able to visit so many amazing landmarks.

I was exposed to religions and sites that I’d only ever read about in the Bible and in textbooks. I could never have imagined the intensity and the passion of the people practicing Islam and Judaism or the way standing where Jesus once stood would affect me. We did “touristy” things, too, such as ride camels across the desert and snorkel in the Red Sea. But the parts that will always stay with me will be the simple ones. Standing on the edge of Masada, standing on stones filled with history and stories that none of us will ever even get to know. Listening to a woman who survived the Holocaust tell her tragic, beautiful story of suffering and rescue, realizing just how good I have it. Watching the men and women pray at the Western Wall, rocking back and forth, talking to their god as if he’s right beside them, asking so passionately and sincerely for blessings. Running my fingers along the stones on the Southern Steps, knowing God’s son was here, preaching and spreading His Father’s good Word, saving souls and touching lives. And He touched mine without even being there physically. The simple memory, the simple acknowledgment of his past presence and spiritual living presence there was enough.

My eyes were forced open by these images and feelings, and they will always dwell in the back of my mind. Sometimes I compare those sights with the ones I see everyday in America: Chick-Fil-A, Apple watches, extra large sorority t shirts, and Donald Trump. We’re so immersed in our own privilege, our own corruption, that we forget we are privileged and corrupted.

Traveling to Israel made me more aware of my blessings and of the opportunities I have that most people will never get. It opened my eyes to the way others live, to the way others worship, to the way others think. Israel gave me so many precious memories and feelings that I will always hold close to my heart. Israel reminded me that God always has me in His powerful hands.

I implore you to get outside your comfort zone. Travel to a place that scares you a little bit. Expand your mind and open your eyes. Realize that you aren’t at the center of the universe.

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