Updated on January 26, 2020
The Final Installment Coming Soon!By most standards, I’ve lived an isolated life. My last time out of the country was a fishing trip to Canada in 1979…when I was 10 years old. Even by domestic standards, I haven’t zipped across that much of the U.S. I’ve never been to NYC, never set foot on the beaches of Hawaii, never absorbed the southern California sun, and never felt the rains of the Pacific Northwest. I’m not a total rube, however. Boston, New Orleans, Memphis, and San Francisco stickers adorn my suitcase, and of course I’ve hit all the big cities close to home.
But when my fiancée suggested we travel to Sweden, to visit our daughter who studies abroad in the small college town called Växjö, I hesitated. Actually, I resisted. The very idea of climbing onto one of those pressurized metal tubes and flinging myself across the Atlantic Ocean at 600 mph terrified me. The inconveniences of going through security and customs intimidated me. All I wanted to do with this upcoming vacation was sit in the house, drink beer, write a little, and play my guitar.
But the secret to any healthy relationship is compromise, and by “compromise” I mean doing what my fiancée wants me to do. So I went.
I don’t know how different I would be had I studied abroad when I went to college (my school didn’t offer it in the early ’90’s). I don’t know how different I’d be if I worked in an industry that shuttled me all over the planet to conduct my business. But given the fact that this one trip–first to Sweden, then to London–proved massively transformative (for both amazing and awful reasons), I can honestly say that not traveling for the first 50 years of my life has impacted me greatly.
Of course, the world is a very different place when you leave somewhere like Indiana. But what astounded me the most was the ways that it wasn’t that different at all. I left my home a grumpy curmudgeon. I came back a young man of sorts…sorts. Changed. Awakened. Humbled. Angered, even.
Here is my story.
I didn’t have to know any Swedish to get along in the country. But forcing the Swedes to speak to me in my language made me realize how intellectually fat and sluggish life in the U.S. has made me.