We've posed questions to frequent travelers about the different countries they've experienced and the cultures in which they were immersed.
When we visit other areas of the world we find things we didn't expect, we grow in ways we never could have anticipated, and we take home with us a piece of the culture we visited.
Whether we expect them to or not, our travels always change who we are. Every fragment that is adjusted and shaped by seeing the world, brings us inches and sometimes miles closer to what we were always meant to be:
One people; one heart.
England, from Noah M.
What did you expect to find that you did not see?
This is a hard one to answer, because I rarely set expectations for a place or experience. I just go in with my eyes open and try to make the most of every encounter.
Did you eat anything that you would later report to your friends as "so that was weird"?
My favorite local pub was called the Abbot's Elm. It had fantastic food and a great social atmosphere with a big brick fireplace in the main room. In England, they make a lot of meat pies--steak and ale being the staple. Every once in awhile you’ll see a steak and kidney pie, and after a year in the country, I finally got the nerve up to try it. I got half way through the pie, effectively ignoring the thought that I was eating a kidney, until I finally got a bite that felt like rubber between my teeth. I'm pretty sure my stomach literally turned a little bit and I immediately lost my appetite...that is, until I noticed there was a cheese platter on the menu.
What differences stood out to you the most?
Well the first difference I noticed was they drive on the flipping wrong side of the road! It took me weeks before I could drive anywhere without holding the steering wheel in a death grip. Second, they have a pub in every village where the locals go to hang out at the end of the day and blow off steam, which does wonders for human relationships within the community. Third, the English language is a lot different over there. You quickly learn that asking for French fries will get you dirty looks, and you best adapt to the local custom of calling them “chips.” They call semi-trucks “lorries,” and a whole host of other small vernacular variations. Finally, you can't help but notice the architecture is different. Houses are built mostly of brick and stone, and they tend to have a squat, stout look to them, and almost all of them are two stories. With so many people crammed on a small island, they are running out of space.
What was your main mode of transportation in the area you visited?
I drove a little yellow Mini Cooper with a black checkered roof and white racing stripes down the hood. In England, most of the roads are tiny, winding, and have no shoulder. The entire infrastructure was built for horse and buggies, so anyone who knows what's good for them drives the smallest vehicle they can find. That Mini Cooper hugged corners like a go cart! Needless to say, I had a blast cruising the old windy roads, with the windows down and the radio blaring.
What was the best meal you had?
A couple of months after I got to England, I went on a speaking tour through the United Kingdom (the conglomerate of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland) with a traveling evangelist. We stopped in Birmingham at this tiny hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant. I ordered a Lamb Rogan Josh on recommendation from Kenny, our expert on Indian cuisine. The dish comes in a very spicy red sauce with ginger, onions, Greek yogurt, and a blend of special spices. Let me tell you--it was HOT, but it was the best Indian dish I've ever had. I still have dreams about that entree.
What customs do you think should be adopted by our country?
I really wish we would adopt the European pub mentality, because most of the meaningful relationships I experienced started with drinks at the local pub. Their approach to food is also something I wish we would adopt. They are much more self sufficient, and grow so much of their own food. Almost everyone has some sort of herb or vegetable garden, and they generally eat locally farm-grown food when they can't grow it themselves.
What was the most interesting thing you saw or visited and why?
I can say without any hesitation that the city of York was the coolest place I got to see. It’s the oldest fully-walled city in England (minus a few small gaps). The wall is public property, so tourists are encouraged to climb to the top and walk around to their heart's content. This particular wall was built in 400 AD by the Romans, and there are plaques relaying the history and battles surrounding each part of the wall that you can read as you walk around. In total there is about a mile of wall to walk, and whenever you need a break, you can climb down and stop in at one of the pubs for a nice cold pint of ale and some food. Parts of the wall are enclosed by trees on either side, which gave the whole experience a serene and authentic feel.
What insights did you walk away with that you couldn't have anticipated beforehand?
One of the major life lessons I learned while I was there is that even though culture and language separate people, once you break through those barriers, wherever you go, people are really just people. They aren't a whole lot different in one country versus another, and they usually don't bite. I also learned that talking to strangers was not something to fear, but rather, it's an exciting experience to learn from and enjoy! I met so many incredible people on my journey, and many of them will hold a place in my heart for the rest of my life. Wherever your foot falls, there you are.