As the daughter of a backpacking guru, I constantly heard the phrase, “Always leave your surroundings better than how you found them.” In my travels across the globe, I’ve realized that this concept is true not only of places but of people too—especially ourselves.
Some experiences always leave us better than how we began: a fresh stamp in our passport, a gyro in Greece, a hug from a child in Kenya. These are not just items on our itinerary; they can color how we perceive the vast world that awaits us.
I have come to learn that experiencing another part of the world is far different than merely visiting it. Sometimes I find myself longing to see the world’s most renowned destinations without giving any thought to understanding the people who live there. Too often, we view the world’s wonders without actually changing our view of the world: When we visit the Taj Mahal, do we also barter in the market streets of Agra? When we look at the Eiffel Tower, do we also stop to chat with the artist selling watercolors on the street?
If we take the time to experience a city instead of simply visiting a city, then that place leaves us better than how it found us. If not, we miss a chance at a life-changing experience. Before I left the United States, I had a rather narrow perspective of the world. But as I traveled to places like England, France, and even Madagascar, I learned that my perspective was like a blank canvas just waiting to be transformed into a masterpiece of understanding.
In London, I felt that my canvas received a coat of bright, tennis-court green and a few touches of propriety. My days in Paris added a few strokes of rosy pink, convincing me that romance and symbolism were in every café and under every bridge. But my six months in Madagascar added the warmest colors to my perspective: rich browns put propriety into perspective, and earthy oranges taught me that life is not always as rosy as it might seem. Brush stroke after brush stroke, my dull canvas was crafted into a colorful work of art. Through this process, not only was my mind enlightened but my perspective was also transformed.
Once we understand the cultures and people that share our beautiful world, we cannot return to who we used to be—or how we used to see. You can begin the transformation now by losing yourself in this issue of Stowaway. Experience the joy of serving orphans, paving your own pilgrimage, and discovering real people in the streets of their hometowns.
So go ahead. Pick up that brush, paint a new perspective, and leave your surroundings—and yourself—better than they were before.