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Students use winter break as a time to leave their country and comfort zones

Marco Terron-Barreto went to Ghana to teach local children English, though he says he was the one who achieved “personal growth.”. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/MARCO TERRON-BARRETO

Often times, with passports in hand, some students used the time between the fall and spring semesters to travel the world, explore new cultures, volunteer in foreign communities and experience what they define as “personal growth.”

While many decide to stick around their homes during the holiday season, others decide to pack their things and take off on new types of adventure.

Junior Avalon Jade spent her break in Beijing, China, participating in the 2018 World Championship of Yoga Sports. At the end of the championship, she won a gold medal in her division for Team USA and visited famous spots on the Asian continent, including the Great Wall of China and Mount Everest.

Troy Moulton is a junior who traveled to Germany during the break. He said that it was fascinating to learn how cultures are different and how experiencing them can change the way people interact with one another.

“What I loved about the trip was being independent with my friend to face the obstacles, triumphs and happiness of traveling,” Moulton said. “I feel like having to face these things and then be rewarded by being immersed in a different way of life is the best reason for experiencing new cultures and places.”

Senior Lauren Flings also traveled to Germany. According to Flings, what impacted her the most was spending time with her mother, learning to help one another and focusing on their strengths together.

“I believe everyone should discover different parts of the world because we have so much to learn from different cultures,” Flings said. “Living without traveling is almost like opening a huge book, only reading the table of contents and expecting to understand the whole thing. You only have one life, and I think it would just be a shame if you didn’t get to see the world you lived in.”

While some students traveled during the break on adventurous vacations, others managed their time to create a bigger impact and spread their knowledge to foreign communities.

Marco Terron-Barreto, a sophomore, spent his break in Ghana teaching different subjects, including science, world geography, English, math and history to 5th-grade students in a rural orphanage. He also stayed in the local community to understand how they live, learn and communicate.

“Being able to share your knowledge and know that you’re doing something small that will create a huge impact in their lives feels incredible,” Terron-Barreto said. “I know that I’ve taught them worthwhile lessons that they will remember and use in the future. In the end, I learned more from them than they ever learned from me.”

While Terron-Barreto was able to share his knowledge to African youth, Jennifer Riddle, a junior, spent her vacation engulfed in wildlife.

Riddle traveled to countries in the African continent as well, including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana. During her time in South Africa, Riddle volunteered with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, where she met with conservationists and enthusiasts about the natural world and learned about their ongoing projects.

“Sometimes, when you come back from stepping away from everything you’re used to experiencing, you notice some elements about your life you never did before,” Riddle said. “With this being my first abroad experience, I think it opened my eyes to the world in a different way than anything I’ve felt before.”

Flings said that being vulnerable in a new country and delving into a new culture will prompt people to go beyond their comfort zones.

“Traveling is important for personal growth because it tests you,” Flings said. “Whether you know the language of the country or not, it is still a challenge to get around and adjust to different cultures. Traveling reveals how you choose to deal with those challenges. Whether you decide to stay in your hotel room and sulk or go out and try your best.”

Rid Bhuiyan, a senior, spent the break traveling to Bangladesh and Turkey. He believes that traveling is essential for personal growth since it allows for a better understanding of various cultures and societies.

“I am a true believer that everyone should travel and experience new cultures because it brings us together,” Bhuiyan said. “Sometimes, it’s easier to disassociate with people of other cultures until we realize how similar our experiences in life are no matter where you are from. Most importantly, traveling really does offer a strong sense of fulfillment and appreciation for the little things we overlook in our daily routines.”

Whether their break was spent touring historical cities, exploring new cultures, or even volunteering around the world, students had the opportunity to experience what Terron-Barreto defines as “personal growth.”

“Traveling is incredibly important for personal growth because it expands one’s cultural knowledge, and allows us to understand the difference in cultures which can enable us to make better choices about world sustainability, language learning and simply see how others around the world live can help us decide what things are really worthwhile,” Terron-Barreto said.