It started in China, at the age of 16. It was my first time to travel abroad, and to travel without my family and only a few friends. I was there for a six-week study program, and I learned that I grew up with possibly a different way of doing things, and some people, friend or not, are not always okay with that. Moreover, I learned that I can meet more people and make more friends by stepping outside of my comfort zone.
Then, I was 21-turning-22, supposed to graduate from college that very year, but decided to take a chance on a year-long student exchange program to Japan. It was my first time to truly travel alone—at least until I got there and my natural sociability came out, whence I learned that I may be able to see people day-in and day-out, but traveling with them is a different matter altogether.
In between then and now, I took another trip—my first backpacking adventure around mainland Southeast Asia, with one friend, both of us twenty-four. What I learned from that was to make myself heard if I wanted something. There’s no room for compromise when only one option is given, after all.
Then, this year alone, I’ve taken several short trips around my own beautiful Philippines—more than I have in any year that I’ve been living here—and I’ve learned that there’s a lot to see if I make the effort to look.
Until now, I’ve been to many places, and there’s no doubt that I’ve learned a lot. And, in each place that I stepped foot, I’ve since realised that I left a part of myself behind. A bad habit, perhaps; a misconception; a lesson I once learned, only to realise it’s one better undone. But, for every part of myself I found to lose, I gained much more than I thought I’d find. Each place, each lesson I’d learned—or unlearned, as the case may be—helped to chip away the old clay of my being, freeing the deeper, better me to form the person I am meant to be.
After all that, it would be easy to credit all that I learned to myself alone. However, I can’t, in good conscience, say so. You see, the irony of learning independence is that one cannot learn it on his/her own. Each lesson I’d learned on my various travels was one I could have only learned by interacting with someone else. That is to say, while I may have reached a certain resolution through my own reflections, such reflections were the result of experience with a good or bad example.
After getting sick—both physiologically and homesick—within the first week of my being in China, I found that I couldn’t stand not taking a shower, as was the suggestion of my roommates-cum-friends. A bit of what I thought to have been harmless teasing that they were “bullying” me with their own methods of dealing with sickness and I found myself estranged from those I came to China knowing—but it led me to leave China knowing so many others.
In my first few months in Japan, I spent practically every waking moment with this one friend—we were dorm mates, classmates, kitchen-mates, and hung out in the same group of friends. As summer break came up and we’d decided to take a four-day trip together, it didn’t even occur to me that we could have any problems between us. I quickly learned I was wrong. We found that we could rub each other the wrong way, and apparently, those few hours spent alone in our own dorm rooms had helped us “recharge” to face each other again the next day. Without that slight barrier, we very nearly destroyed what took us four months to build.
While my friend and I were in Thailand, the first stop of our backpacking trip, we agreed to go check out the Full Moon Party of Koh Phangan. We barely stayed an hour or two before my friend decided it wasn’t our scene—and for the sake of amiability, I gave in. Ironically, my regret afterwards was what almost ruined the good atmosphere.
That was certainly not all. But, from all this, I can say that I’ve learned more about myself, as well as more about others. In the end though, the greatest thing I learned was what I’d been saying earlier: that all these experiences, all these lessons, belong not only to me, but to everyone who had been with me on the road. For as independent as you may like to think you are, no one is ever truly alone.
About the Author
Dominique Samantha has two nicknames: Dom and Sam, both of which can be used for either sex. This is indicative of how she views other people as well, as she is a firm believer in equality and anti-discrimination. She enjoys travel as a way to broaden her horizons and learn more about the different cultures, beliefs and perspectives to which each of these people belong.
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