Annie Arthur is a current International Program Coordinator Intern at ACIS. She is a Senior at Syracuse University where she is majoring in International Relations and Citizenship and Civic Engagement with a concentration on Southeast Asia. Her interest in international development began after spending her Fall semester of her Junior year studying abroad in India. While in India, she studied Sustainable Development and Social Change and Hindi. Her goal is to one day travel to every country in the world and sample all different cuisines.
All through elementary school, I’d dreamt of spending several weeks at a summer camp. I wanted to relive the incredible memories that my parents had shared with me when they were my age. At last, in 5th grade, I sat on the edge of my bed packing my suitcase with my mom in preparation for two weeks at overnight camp. For some, two weeks away from home would seem like an easy feat. However, it was my biggest challenge. Deep down I was terrified of leaving home. My anxiety had completely taken over every thought that had once made me so excited. Two weeks of summer camp in northern Maine seemed like an eternity to a girl who enjoyed the security of her family and friends.
Everything changed when I was able to gather the courage and travel to Costa Rica on a two-week educational trip. Having been slowly introduced to travel through a few family vacations, I was keenly aware of the travel bug creeping up. Suddenly, I was curious about everything the world had to offer. I sought out a trip that would allow me to travel separately from my family and with a group of peers who shared interest similar to my own, and later that year, I packed my bags and got on a plane to Costa Rica with twenty other high school students. I was hesitant that my anxiety would prevent me from enjoying everything this trip had to offer. As soon as we landed, there was so much to explore and learn that I did not have time to think about missing home. Each day was filled with a new adventure. One moment I was zip lining through the rainforest canopy and the next I was playing soccer with the locals. After years of allowing my anxiety to hold me back, I was finally free to explore and realize my passion for travel.
The following year, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to travel again. I decided that I would travel halfway around the world to Cambodia and Vietnam for sixteen days. I felt confident in my decision to travel so far from home because I was with a group who put our safety above all else. This trip was different than any other trip I had ever been on before. As soon as our plane landed, I was in culture shock. I stopped in my tracks and I was overwhelmed with emotions. The most prominent of these feelings was the anticipation of conquering the unknown. I was deeply determined to embrace every opportunity and to try something new. Later that I night, I had found a letter that was secretly placed in my backpack from my mom. In that letter my mom shared something with me something that I still carry with myself today. She told me to say “yes!” to every opportunity I was faced with. This sentiment quickly turned out to be more difficult than I thought when I was given the opportunity to eat fried tarantula at dinner.
Some of my most meaningful memories from high school come from these educational trips. When I close my eyes, I can still hear the roar of cicadas echoing throughout the jungle and I can feel the cold stone beneath my feet. I am able to reimagine myself sitting on the third floor of one of the seven wonders of the world: Angkor Wat. I remember arriving at Angkor Wat right as the sun was about to set. One of the local security guards, who was friends with our tour guide, invited us to explore the third floor, historically accessible to only kings and high priests. Our group of eighteen was encouraged “to get lost” in the temple, a concept which was fairly new to me, as someone who typically relies on the company of others. Alone, I walked down a corridor and discovered a hidden balcony from the rest of my group. As I sat watching the changing light, I was enveloped in silence and reflected on what life was like in this temple centuries ago.
That moment sitting alone in the quiet confirmed my passion in life; to explore the unknown and to walk a path different from my peers. I realize I am different. I find joy in traveling to a hole in-the-wall restaurant, eat tarantula for the heck of it, and communicate with my terrible Khmer accent, in an effort to soak up my surroundings. Deep down inside there was a dream of exploration and discovery trying to surface. The little girl who was scared to leave home for summer camp was now on the path to becoming a world traveler. In facing the unknown and traveling halfway around the world, I was able to turn my biggest fear into my greatest passion.