My first trip abroad was in 1998. I went to the United States for a year of research and professional development through the Fulbright Program. My goals were primarily academic: to take courses in my field of studies, participate in conferences and seminars, complete my PhD dissertation and build personal and professional networks. Yet, I quickly realized that there was a lot more to my experience in the United States than academic work. There was a whole new world to discover outside of the classroom, and learning was happening everywhere at a very high pace. Whether I went to a grocery store, attended a community event, watched a TV show, or went to dinner with a friend, I was learning new ways of being and thinking. My mind was opening up.
A lot more was happening in my new American life than ever before in Ukraine, a whirlwind of events and trips:
Introducing my homemade apple pie at the University of Tennessee International Food Festival - it was so well received. Touring the CNN Center, the world headquarters of CNN in Atlanta, Georgia. Going up the Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois, one of the tallest buildings in the world (now called Willis Tower) and unexpectedly seeing Lake Michigan right in front of me. Having a coffee and listening to jazz at Hotel del Coronado in San Diego County, California. Looking at the photographs from the filming of Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot” (1958) displayed in the hotel hallway, the most lauded comedy of all time and my favorite movie, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Watching a shark swimming right above me at the Sharks exhibit at SeaWorld San Diego, the world’s largest underwater viewing tunnel. Admiring the portrait of First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy painted by Aaron Shikler in 1970 and placed on public display in the East Room of the White House. Learning how to make sushi and trying raw fish for the first time at a New Year’s lunch hosted by a Japanese-American family in Arlington, Virginia...and so many more unforgettable memories got imprinted on my heart and soul. It was a magnificent year, the happiest year of my life.
Needless to say, I took a lot of pictures that year and brought them home in three thick albums to share with my friends and family. It was exhausting for them to see and grasp the volume and meaning of it all. Few people in Ukraine owned computers at the time; digital cameras, cell phones and notebooks had not happened yet, so I could only share the photos upon my arrival back home.
Since then, I have travelled to 24 countries for business or pleasure. My house has gradually filled up with little souvenirs from different trips: a couple of short glasses from Miami, Florida, souvenir dolls in national costumes from Canada, Cuba, China and Japan, two pairs of tiny Dutch wooden shoes, a miniature Eiffel Tower, framed photos from key life events: graduation ceremony at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, attending a NAFSA conference in Washington, D.C. and my favorite one: swimming with the dolphins in Cuba. I don’t notice my fridge magnets too often but every time that my eye catches a little picture of Petit-Champlain Street in Quebec City, or Vancouver’s waterfront or the never stopping Niagara Falls, it warms my heart. I feel so fortunate to have been able to visit these impressive locations, no matter how long ago this happened, and what the future might hold.
I’d love to turn my framed photos into Hexxas - hexagonal wall art, a stylish design that has recently showed up on my Pinterest board. This will ensure their durability and free up space on the shelves for more little souvenirs. Two cities, Vancouver, Canada and San Diego, USA, have left a lasting mark on me and I frequently imagine walking through the streets of these cities. It would be great to have maps of them displayed in the house to make these walks a little more real. For a country map, I would definitely choose Canada. Studying and working there for many years turned out to be both transformational and inspirational, and made me a better human being and a better global citizen. As for the world map, there is a paper one in the attic that I never seem to get around to finding. It would be lovely to have a wooden one (I don’t want my room to look like a dorm by hanging up paper ones) in the living room or even in the bedroom, to remember the glorious past and to dream of new adventures. Limiting yourself, your knowledge sources, ideas and aspirations to one place, one city or even one country is no longer an option.