By: Susie Lambert
At 17 I got my first tattoo. Carpe Diem.
It’s written in bold, cursive letters on my left wrist. At 17 I felt confident I would – Carpe Diem – my way through life; living in the moment and seizing every day. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the phrase as “The enjoyment of the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future” and that is exactly the way I wanted to live. 17 year old me had big plans… bigger than those the average teenage girl living in suburbia had in 2007. I wanted to travel the world.
There was just one big question… How?
I had thoughts like “If only I had X amount of money, then I could do this or go there.” How could I afford to study in Europe, backpack through Asia, or soak in the Caribbean sun? Well, Henry Ford said it best.
“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right.”
I’m 28 now, and 21 countries later I can happily say that I ‘Carpe Diemed’ my way through. The last eleven years were spent making memories. I spent that semester in Germany, got sunburnt in Cuba, and taught English in South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. For four years my name became ‘Teacha Suji’ (who knew the ‘z’ sound wasn’t in the Korean language?). I was my own driving force to work hard, save, and make travel happen; seizing every opportunity I could to push further and go to the next place.
The ‘travel bug’ is real. I became addicted to experiencing new places with all my senses. My values became discovering new countries, cultures, people, food, and, of course, drinks. I really couldn’t get enough.
Naturally, things didn’t always go to plan. Actually, most times my plans didn’t go to plan.
These were three of my biggest adventures.
At 19 I flew to Ireland for the summer on a working holiday visa. My first big solo trip.
The plan: Work, save, travel across Europe.
Reality: Barely worked, drank often, traveled lots, and spent all my savings. One of the best summers of my life, I wouldn’t change a thing.
At 22 I flew to Seoul, South Korea, to teach English.
The plan: Teach for one year then travel Asia.
Reality: Stayed in Korea for a long… long… long time. Almost four years to be exact. Turns out I’m a pretty good teacher. After each one-year teaching contract, I’d hit up Southeast Asia for an epic backpacking trip before coming home to Canada for few months.
At 24 I flew to the Philippines with two girlfriends.
The plan: Fill my days with beach, beer, and adventures in Southeast Asia.
Reality: Four of the best months of my life backpacking through six countries in Southeast Asia. This is where I learned that the best way to see a new country is by motorbike, and it turned out I could rent one for a ridiculous price of $5 a day.
Now, at 28, maybe I’m not where I’m ‘supposed’ to be, or have the things I’m ‘supposed’ to have. I’ve chosen a box full of old boarding passes a tired passport full of stamps over a flat screen TV on my wall and a car in the driveway. I don’t compare myself to other 28-year-olds who own a house, have newer clothes, a nicer phone, or a better job.There are countless life lessons to be learned from years of travel. They’re the kind of lessons best learned from experience and can’t be understood quite as deeply by reading about it in a book.
There is no right or wrong way to live your life. What makes people, cultures, and countries different is the things people value, and learning to fully accept another person’s values is the best, most challenging life lesson I have learned on my travels.
Although I do my best to fully accept different values, it is more easily said than done. To be completely honest, most of the time I find myself thinking negatively when I arrive in a new place. I get immediate thoughts on what a person or culture should change in order to match values I am accustomed to.
In South Korea, I thought…
“These students study way too much. They should study less ”
In Vietnam, I thought…
“This motorbike traffic is crazy. They should have fewer motorbikes on the roads.”
In Thailand, I thought….
“This school curriculum is easy and there is too much play time. They should make it more challenging.”
When I catch myself instinctively thinking like this, I take a step back.
In South Korea, people value education.
In Vietnam, people value fast, cheap, and convenient travel.
In Thailand, people value a balance between work and play.
I have learned that there is no right or wrong thing to value, and comparing someone else to my own ‘norm’ is not a healthy way to live. Now at 28 years old, I am positive someone has thought these things about me:
“She should travel less, move home, start her career.”
“She should settle down, get married, and buy a house.”
Values are unique to every individual. Every day I strive to accept what makes people, cultures, and countries different. Fully accepting different values continues to be the best, most challenging life lesson I have learned on my travels.