I’ve always taken my brothers’ advice very seriously, and my college years were no exception. When they said visit your professors during office hours, I wrote up my questions and visited most of my professors at least once. When they said to live in a coop, I donned by Birkenstocks and joined an 11-member house, always cleaning the bathrooms when it was my turn. And when they said to study abroad, I moved to Spain for 4 months.
It was this last piece of advice that led me to the bulk of my international travel to-date. During my junior year, I travelled to Alicante, Spain, on the Mediterranean coast, for a semester, where I practiced my Spanish with my host family and spent lots of time on the beach. It was also during this time that I took advantage of traveling around Europe. From Brussels to Budapest, I visited more museums than I can remember, ate foreign (in many senses of the word) and delicious food, and met strangers in hostels who became close friends.
I learned about these myriad opportunities from lots of sources. One of the key ones: books. Sure, I followed the recommendations on Hostelworld and checked out the Wikitravel pages for the cities I was visiting, but the books I read before I set off for these adventures helped me gain a more nuanced perspective than I might have had otherwise.
The books I read helped me learn basic language skills for various countries (Duolingo didn’t hurt either), and tutored me in the norms and expectations from country-to-country, city-to-city. The travelogues of those who came before me also gave me a historical perspective of what it’s like to be a foreign traveler wherever I was going. As a history major, these held a particularly special place in my heart.
With the memory of these readings in mind, my colleague and I created a display in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library’s lobby, with this whimsical title you may have seen on your way to the printers: “Pack Your Bags and Ready That Fanny Pack: It’s Time to Travel!” Loaded on this display (which changes themes at the beginning of every month, by the way) are books about international travel.
A guide about Japanese food (with lots of pictures)
A travelogue of one conservationist’s experience interacting with the amazing biodiversity of the Amazon River
A book called Whiskey, Kilts, and the Loch Ness Monster...need I say more?
For all of you who are setting off for a semester abroad this year, I encourage you to check out these books to educate yourself before you fly out. For those of you who are already scheming about your fall or end-of-semester breaks, these books are for you, too. And for those of you who have travel on the mind and don’t know where to start, check out the display. Hopefully some titles there can jumpstart your imagination - the possibilities are endless!