My mother and I in Kiev, photo from personal archive
As I was thinking of my next preferred destination to write about for this section of Seren, I stumbled upon a photograph that I took 2 years ago, when I was living the dream in Tokyo, Japan. And this photo really made me feel that it’s my time to speak about how traveling changed MY life. Then I thought further… Is traveling just a hobby that became largely accessible, or is it rather a mindset, a way of living and being? Because for me, it is the very core of my personality.
I remember the first time my parents told me we would go out of the country. I was around 8 years old, and my mother had planned a business trip to Ukraine. Before then, both my parents would travel extensively because of work, to various places, from Hungary to Israel, but were never taking me with them as I was considered too little. But then, in that autumn, they decided it was time for me to see something else than the centre of Bucharest and its quite miraculous artisanal fountains. So, we hopped on a train and for 2 days straight all I could hear was the hypnotizing sound of the train. Two whole days spent in a train on the way to Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine. When we got there, everything was so much different than anything I ever knew. Much colder, more grey and more snowy than old Bucharest. While my mom was attending meetings, my father and I would visit popular places like Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra, a monastery, Rodina Mat memorial, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All was new for me, and all so brilliantly interesting.
Many more trips had followed since then, and every summer my parents would plan a month-long trip around Europe, so I have seen so many places that I cannot even remember. Capitals, like Paris, Vienna, Prague, Helsinki, but also remote towns and islands, and, of course, parks and mountains. Thank God my dad took photographs!
With every trip, it became obvious to me that the single greatest thing you can do is travel. And that with each new place seen, one becomes more and more complete and knowledgeable. Traveling has shaped me since childhood, changed me from a mere citizen of Romania, to a borderless soul that understands different cultures and respects diversity. My decision to come study in the UK was also based on this new person that traveling made of me. I wanted to see how it is like to study amongst people that perhaps did not share the same norms as I do, how it is like to be part of a large community of people that come from all over the world. My decision to live in Japan for one year was also a product of traveling before moving to the UK. My parents highly encouraged me to take this step, and explore a new continent with a drastically different culture.
Japan was much more different than I thought possible. The first two months seemed to have passed as if my culture and my understanding of society was the ‘’normal’’. However, after 2 months of studying among Japanese, eating like Japanese and traveling from Tokyo, to Kyoto, and Sapporo, I found myself in an unexpected changed mentality. Their customs were now my new ‘’normal’’, and me respecting and obeying them came naturally. At times I was surprised, and at others angry and confused, but finally, I was at peace knowing that true beauty resides in differences. I came back to Europe with an enlarged vision, with a new hunger for the unknown, with a burning desire to understand multiculturality.
And frankly speaking, there is never enough traveling you can do to finish the quest of understanding human nature and multiculturality.
If it were not for traveling, I would have never found the love of my life, or my true identity, nor my life-long friendships. If it were not for traveling, I would have never understood the connection between children and parents, nor would I have ever made sense of the world. I am eternally grateful for my parents having taken the time to plan trips, to research what is to be seen. To my significant other, who agreed to walk with me 10 kilometers a day in the middle of eccentric Japanese towns. To all my friends who gave me a chance to peek in their intimate cultures and religions. And of course, to myself, I am grateful for never having stopped being curious about the world.
For me, traveling is not just a hobby one does occasionally for relaxing, traveling is a way of being, a way of moving forward towards human excellence, just like self-actualisation. It is not the destination, but all the way, the stops, the hitchhikes, the coffee shops, the photographs.