I had to think carefully about today's topic because I wanted to make sure that when I wrote about traveling abroad alone, I wrote about a time when I was truly alone. And frankly, I don't think I've ever been to a foreign country all by myself, so this experience will have to do. Before I tell you about that experience, I want to tell you about the experience of my high school boyfriend. He wasn't alone at the time, but I remember well his first time traveling "abroad".
Our family had just moved to Texas, and my boyfriend and I had been wrenched apart in the process. So a few months later, he came to visit us. While he was there, we decided to go as a family down to Mexico. We drove down to the border, then took a public bus across the bridge in to ...I think it was Piedras Negras. We spent a few hours shopping and sight seeing, then headed back over the bridge to go back home. I remember that as we were crossing the bridge back in to the U.S.A., he said, "Oh America, I am going to kiss the ground when I get back there!". I really think he thought he would be kidnapped by terrorists while he was in Mexico. We couldn't help laughing at him :)
Okay, now on to my story. When I was a young 21 years old, I went to serve a mission for our church. I was called to the Taiwan, Taipei mission. I had never even flown on a plane before. Before leaving for Taiwan, I spent 2 months in a missionary training center, where I learned some basic mandarin chinese. I was paired up with a companion, and for the next year and a half, almost always had a companion with me. The group I went with to Taiwan was also the group I came home with. But two of the "sister" missionaries with whom I had travelled, had returned to the states early because of health problems. So when I got on the plane, I was all by myself.
You have to really understand what it is like to have a missionary companion for 1 1/2 years. It is a built in friend, and a built in security guard. The most we would ever be separated would be by the bathroom door. Missionaries are given companions to help them, but also it really is a security measure. It's just safer with two instead of just one. There was a time on my mission when I didn't have a companion. I had a companion who was a "part time" missionary, and only came to serve in the summers when she had a vacation from her job as a teacher. She had to go back to work before the new missionaries arrived from the U.S., so I had to spend a week or two without a companion. So we worked it out that I would either have a local member work with me, or I would be in a threesome with two other "sisters" who lived with me. But one day the local member with whom I was working, had to go home early, and left me alone on the side of the road. I suddenly felt very vulnerable, and very scared to be alone. I got in the first taxi I could find, and had him take me directly to the mission home where I could stay until I could make contact with the missionaries I lived with.
Months later, as I got on the plane to come home alone, I again felt that vulnerability, and the fear that came from being totally alone abroad. For the past year and a half I had a built in friend and companion, and now I was totally alone. I guess that was a good adjustment period for me so that when I got back to the "real world", I would be prepared to be alone again. But nevertheless, it was difficult and scary.
I think what I liked most about that experience is that it gave me a chance to see that I could take care of myself, and I could venture out in to the world alone. It is an empowering to have experiences that make us stretch, and make us depend solely on ourselves.
The other thing I like about experience is that it taught me that there are a lot of good people in the world who are willing to help a stranger. Through my travels in the world, I have many times been blessed by the kindness of strangers. There is always someone willing to help. We are never truly alone if we will but reach out to our fellow humans, despite our not knowing them.
Check out what the other consortium members experienced their first time abroad alone:
Rummuser, Anu, Ashkok, Gaelikka, Grannymar, , Padmum, Magpie11, andAkanksha,Will Knot, Maria the Silver Fox, Anki, Nema Noor Paul Plain Joe, and Rohit, Black watertown, The Old Fossil, our newest member MAXI! and last, but not least SHACKMAN! :)