Being abroad either for work or pleasure can put you in a vulnerable position. Navigating through new territory with a language barrier, often accompanied with jetlag, can make you confused, disoriented and lead to uncomfortable situations. However, in my experience, I’ve found that for the most part strangers across the world have been more helpful than not. The kindness of strangers has helped me to get from point a to point b, find that restaurant I was trying to hunt down and led to new, exciting adventures. For every mishap or bump in the road that I’ve had while travelling, there is always a more compelling and positive story to go along with it.
A few years ago, I backpacked across Southeast Asia and visited the sought-after views of Ha-Long Bay, Vietnam from an island known as Cát Bà. While taking in the scenery and scootering through the small island, I along with one of my friends, caught a serious case of food poisoning and/or a bad stomach virus. This is the sickest I can recall ever being. We both fought over the washroom and had almost no energy to stand-up, eat or drink. It was safe to say we were severely dehydrated, feverish and not doing well. And although I remember crying from feeling so ill, I will never forget the kindness of our hostel’s host who nursed us both back to life. He went above and beyond to take care of us. At one point, he even brought my friend on his motorbike across the island to the only doctor’s office to have her checked on. I remember him taking porridge to my room, making sure we had water to sip on and changing the sheets that we sweated through. If it weren’t for his kindness and attention I don’t think we would have recovered the way we did. This was one of those moments that sticks with you and I am forever grateful to have had someone who I barely knew at the time take such good care of my friend and I. Though this was not what we had in store for our time in Ha-Long Bay, the experience was made that much sweeter by the care and thoughtfulness of our host turned friend.
While being away from home, I think that you end up opening yourself up in new ways that you might not normally do during your day to day life. When you’re travelling, your mind is in a new headspace and you’re thinking about what you see with a new perspective. Often I find myself so used to what’s around me that I start to lose the wonder that one might experience when they are seeing something for the first time. During an excursion, your senses are heightened, your thoughts are new and it feels as though everything around you has yet to be discovered.
I recently had this kind of realization during a trip to the Algarve in Portugal, where the kindness of strangers led to new adventures. My friend and I had chosen to check-out a place for dinner, on recommendation from our Airbnb host, where we ended up befriending the wait-staff. They allowed us to stay during the closing of the restaurant and ended up throwing a party. This is probably one of my favorite last-minute adventures that I’ve experienced while abroad. My friend and I helped to close up the shop and then followed the crew to the beach for a midnight swim. We immediately felt so welcomed by the group and it was exhilarating to see the ocean at night. I felt as if I was able to get a glimpse into living on a coastal village island – all because some locals were willing to let my friend and I tag along on their night out.
Whether you’re stuck in a sticky situation or looking for a new adventure, the people, and later friends, who you may meet abroad can be a window for a new way to view the world. These are just a few snippets and stories of how meeting others abroad can lead to new experiences and cultivate a sense of appreciation for those you meet. I’m sure that if you’ve travelled or ever been abroad, you too may have an idea of how someone has been able to lend a helping hand or lead you to new heights. I encourage you to reflect, think back and appreciate those times while being open to the new experiences that lie ahead with future travels.
Volunteering is a great way to immerse yourself into a new environment where you’ll be sure to come across new people. Check out WorkingAbroad’s current projects to see where you could end up and meet along the way! One of the benefits about volunteering abroad is that you have the opportunity to work directly with locals. This can help to build an appreciation and understanding for the everyday experience of those living in the community. As a volunteer, you are able to interact with both those in the community you’re serving as well as your peers who can come from all corners of the world! WorkingAbroad emphasizes our commitment to meaningful and ethical opportunities for volunteers to make a positive impact. See what’s in store and experience the kindness of who may start off as strangers but end up as friends while volunteering!
Article by WorkingAbroad Blog Writer Emma Pietropaolo