By Clay Parlette
Traveling the world is a stereotypical bucket list item for many people to accomplish before they die. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, family and work obligations, and the obvious money barrier, too many people end up never making this dream a reality. Instead, they end up counting California or Florida as a close second to an actual experience abroad. The awesome thing about college is that these kinds of opportunities are plentiful, fun, and affordable. Personally, I was one of those people who had never been abroad before, but when I came to UF, I knew that sometime in the four years I was here, I would do everything I could to make it happen.
Many like to ease their way into globetrotting, traveling first to other English-speaking countries like Canada or the United Kingdom. Some may wet their feet with a tropical excursion to Mexico or the Caribbean. Any of these options are equally enriching, but I chose to take the path less traveled and jump right into this whole travel thing. Yep, small-town-sheltered-boy Clay hopped on the plane to Japan this summer.
I’ll admit it. I was terrified. Not only was the country literally halfway across the globe from home, it was about as foreign of a culture and language as I could get. Having absolutely no background whatsoever in Japanese, I began to wonder about eight hours into my thirteen-hour flight if I would actually be able to survive this endeavor. And, looking back upon the summer, I can affirmatively say that, not only did I survive the trip, it made me a better person.
For roughly $3,000, I spent nearly four weeks completely immersed in Japan. From the bustling streets of Tokyo and the hectic train rides, to the calming environments of the temples and shrines and the ultra-unique food I consumed, Japan taught me a little about myself and then some—perspective that is unavailable when you stay in Ohio your whole life. I learned that, in a world of pompous Kim Kardashians and Rush Limbaughs, respect is still alive and well—at least in one part of the world. I learned about the power of language, both verbal and physical, and that, even through this, one of the toughest barriers that exists, friendships can be made and fun can be had. I learned that delicious food can come from somewhere beyond Outback and Applebee’s, that fish and odd sea vegetables can satisfy the tongue, and that okonomiyaki will be served at my wedding, my next fifty birthdays, and my funeral. I learned that even with history, the United States serves as an important influence in world culture to the point where you are treated like a celebrity in a crowd, people wear American flag apparel and celebrate the Fourth, and many have burning desires to travel and live in our country. I learned that while many Americans could never imagine another way of life and family traditions, our ways are only one of many, and it’s a shame we can’t experience them all in our lifetimes.
Living with Japanese families, exploring the streets and malls on my own time, and conversing with other students about everything from Miley Cyrus to my writing professor were experiences that I will forever cherish and would not have been possible without leaving the States. Today, I have a new appreciation for other cultures and worldviews. In America, we often come dangerously close to viewing ourselves as the only acceptable lifestyle. If only more of us would take the chance to immerse in a foreign land, maybe we would be a more peaceful nation. I strongly recommend that everyone take the time to put their world in perspective at one point in their life. If not to Japan, the possibilities are still endless and the benefits limitless. I know it sounds corny, but I promise you won’t be disappointed. College is the time to do these kinds of things while you’re still young and influential. I can’t wait to begin planning my next trip and I really do hope you’ll consider joining me.