I grew up in an upper middle class suburb of Detroit. Everything about the town – the people, the layout, the food – made me feel trapped. My soul told me there was more to experience on this planet, an idea encouraged by my mom and my high school German teacher, Janie Barner. My fondest memory of German class was a lesson Janie taught on travel vocabulary. At the end she asked, “Now, who has been bitten by the travel bug?” My heart swelled, and I knew I had been bitten, hard. Within the next year, I travelled to Germany with my class, and the bug bit deeper.
I did not want to go to college. Chiefly, I wanted to join the Peace Corps. My parents pushed me toward the safer path of a four year degree. I went away to school, earned a degree, a load of debt, and fell upon the perfect opportunity to work abroad. After graduation, I spent two years teaching English in Austria and traveling Central and Eastern Europe.
I needed a special kind of courage to live and thrive on my own within a foreign country, system, and language. I remember arriving in Bad Aussee, the small Austrian town where I would live and work. It was dusk on a late summer day, and it had taken longer than anticipated to arrive. I passed the address a couple of times before I found it. My landlord stuck her head out of the window and greeted me. I could barely understand a word from my landlord’s mouth! Austrian German is different than the Hochdeutsch I had learned, and my landlord spoke in the unique Bad Aussee dialect. With time, as the language became more comfortable, I learned to use dialect words in my German.
Months prior to my return to Michigan, I had doubts about how I would fit into my culture, my hometown, with my family and friends. I moved back in with my parents, which provided a sense of comfort, and started nursing school. Though, I missed Austria daily, my travels enabled me to see my hometown through a new filter. I began to appreciate the quaint downtown and the nature trails. But my desire to travel did not go away. As the days marched on, and as nursing school became more of a nightmare, living with wanderlust was a lesson in patience.
Now, I am a nurse living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I have had to readjust my feelings about travel. Through my adolescent and college years, I saw travel as an escape from what I perceived as a boring life. While I still feel wanderlust, I am learning that travel is more a frame of mind than a location. With a sense of exploration, travel can be as easy as walking out the front door.
(This was originally written as my first assignment – a biography – for the online travel writing course, MatadorU.)