© Christine Andrew
Thu, June 26, 2014
Explore Within and Without: The Opportunities Within Foreign Travel
A couple of years ago my husband, Jim, and I were able to spend quite a bit of time in Asia. It was an adventure that was completely unexpected, and one that left us changed, expanded, and aware in ways we weren't previously. One of my most favorite delights in this world is travel, a passion I've pursued my entire life. Although I enjoy travel in general I am most thrilled with international travel as I find the opportunities that arise for new awarenesses abound.

There's something unique and profound that happens as you find yourself in an entirely new culture, new surroundings, and new languages. You become aware of aspects of your beliefs and customs that you wouldn't in another way. There are so many opportunities to reflect on not only what you believe and how you hold yourself within your life but also invitations to investigate who we are as people within our world and what we value.

There are so many examples I can provide. For instance, here in the U.S. physically I would be described as average height and weight, although I'm fairly fine boned and I tend to run on the lighter side of the weight spectrum for my height. In stature I don't tower over others nor am I what we'd consider short and my clothes' sizes tend on the small side. In Asia I am very tall to most and have a hard time finding clothes that are large enough for me, even XXL. As I made those discoveries it was an opportunity to experience myself in a whole new way and it became possible for me to investigate myself and my beliefs in new and wonderful ways. Some of the questions I had the opportunity to evaluate within myself may also provide an opening for you to investigate yourself in new ways.

Does it matter to me to experience myself as a size small or XXL? Do the perceptions of others as me being large or small make me feel larger or smaller within my own self? Does my size change my belief in who I am? How do I feel that others perceive my size or the way I look differently in another country and do those feelings impact what I say to myself about myself?

What do I say about myself as I blend into our American culture, looking and acting like so many others around me in comparison to how I physically stand out from the crowd in Asia? Does that make how I move through my day, my moment, my world different? How do I perceive those around me and do those perceptions change if I can't understand what they're saying?

Do I enjoy being able to blend in, be somewhat homogeneous within a crowd? Do I enjoy standing out and having a lot of eyes on me? How do I feel knowing that so many of the nuances of my conversational style are lost in translation? How can I effectively communicate when my normal methods no longer work in my environment? How quickly do I pick up on what's socially okay and not okay and what do I say to myself when I unwittingly cross those lines?

I got to answer all of those questions for myself, to explore, to be amazed sometimes at what my own answers were. For instance, in my history I had a long period of time in my life during which I struggled with eating disorders. My relationship with food and with my body wasn't healthy and it was a tremendous source of frustration and challenge for me during that period of time in my life.

Today I'm blessed to have created a very different relationship with food and my body, my ability to nourish and thrive. But even then, it was interesting for me to pause and consider what I really think about experiencing myself as a size small or a size XXL. How did I feel going from feeling rather small/average in our country to really rather large in my new society? Were there pangs of judgment within that? Did it change how I felt within as a person? Did it change how I walked along the street or within the world? Was there acceptance or emotion or shame? I did a lot of hard work for many years around this issue and it felt glorious to really be able to have my answers to those questions reflect that.

Large or small, tall or short, I am who I am. Who I am in reality has nothing to do with my size, my shape, my looks, my job. Who I am within, who we all are within, is our real truth. But our experiences, our perceptions, and our beliefs are tools to help us learn more fully our own truths. In reality, although my new awareness of my adjusted stature in my surroundings took a few moments to get used to, I really was just me. I'd never paused to consider any of these questions really so I was most fascinated by their emergence within me. What a tremendous opportunity to have such a catalyst as a prompt for self-reflection!

Before we went to Asia my hair had a lot of blond highlights and when I found out we were going I had it darkened, thinking that would help me to blend in a little more. This too provided an opportunity for me to evaluate the parts of me that desired to blend in. Did I feel I needed that to feel safer in my new environment? Did I feel that would make me be more approachable to others to look at least a little more like they did? Was there an aspect of myself that was uncomfortable just being who I am, and if so, what was that about and what did it represent? No judgments, just opportunities for awareness and reflection.

I had the same opportunities for self reflection and awareness with communication. When I started college I was a foreign language major. I love language of all kinds and am fascinated by the sounds, the etymology of words, of colloquialisms, you name it. I love language, plain and simple. How could I change my language to better communicate what I needed or wanted or questioned if I was in a space where language was a barrier? How did I communicate differently than I do in my normal everyday life? What could I learn about my new surroundings, the history there, and the people within it by learning some of their phrases and their communication styles?

Many of the communication styles in Asia I adore. I love the way they greet one another, especially in Thailand with the wai. The wai is the standard greeting where you bring both of your hands together in front of you as if you were going to bow your head in prayer. You bow your head slightly with your hands together and say "Sawasdee Ka" (if you're female) or "Sawasdee Krap" (if you're male). To me it feels like an act of tremendous honor and respect, as if you are bowing to the presence of the person you are greeting.

Part of travel for me is the sheer delight in experiencing new sights, new sounds, new smells, new people. To touch and glimpse and participate in history and in parts of the world I'd only dreamed of is magnificent. But even further, for me, the opportunities all of those things provide to discover more about who you are within... priceless!

Throughout our travels, I blogged for friends and family in a controlled area and I'm in the processing of going through some of those posts for other purposes. I'll be sharing some of those journeys from our most excellent Asian adventure here within this blog along with various other reflections of awareness gleaned from other aspects of life. The investigations and awarenesses that reside under the surface of virtually every experience, interaction, and encounter in life, whether in your backyard of halfway across the world, help lead us to our highest selves. It's a journey that I'm delighted to say lasts an entire lifetime and more!

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