A wise professor once told me, “You can’t consider yourself a citizen of the world until you’ve lived abroad.” At the time, I had never been outside the continental United States and those words rattled my brain until I finally decided to become a world citizen myself. I wanted to be that. I signed up to study abroad in Vienna through my university and took an German class from a local institution, as well as an art and architecture class. I lived there for an entire summer with other students and each of us lived with various host families.
From a student’s perspective, it’s one thing to study art out of a history book and a listen to a crazy old lady drone on about the ancient icons that we should be appreciating, but it’s an entirely different experience to live and breath the art that you’ve always heard about in your junior high and high school social studies classes.
Remember the enormous library where Belle dances around in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast? Well there are real places like that. Austria’s National Library in the heart of Vienna is just such a place. And that is the beauty of travel – when movies and textbooks become reality and you experience them for yourself. Samuel Johnson said it in more sophisticated way: “The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.”
When I first stepped into the Prunksaal, the center of the old imperial library, I was speechless. The walls were covered in shelves which were all stocked with books that were older than anything I’d seen or held in America. The dome ceiling was ornately painted with scenes from dramas, biblical scenes and representations of ancient heroes. In every corner, marble pillars encased the shelves and statues representing times of war and peace stood around the main hall. It was absolutely captivating.
When studying architecture, instead of viewing endless PowerPoint slides of pictures, our professor brought us to those buildings. Gothic arches? Here they are. Baroque church? Here it is.
Traveling forces you outside of your day to day routine and inserts you into another world and another culture. It helps you appreciate other ways of life and what other people have to offer.
In the words of St. Augustine, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”