Travelling has taught me a lot of things, but the lesson I learnt on my very first overseas trip was the one that changed my life forever.
I can’t deny that for most of my childhood, I lived inside a sheltered little bubble. I grew up in a middle-class household in Australia, which in terms of safety and standard of living, is one of the highest-ranking countries in the world. An easy and comfortable lifestyle is all I ever knew, and as a result, I was oblivious to just how lucky I was.
One fateful day in high school, things changed.
I was fifteen at the time, and it had been a “rough” season for me in teenage terms. In a series of months, my best friend had turned against me, I was dumped by my first boyfriend, and home life had become rocky. My normally positive outlook on life was eroding and a little beast called depression was slowly creeping in. Everything inside of me wanted to escape the country and get as far away from the struggles of my fifteen-year-old-life as possible.
During this time, I was directing most of my time and energy towards my dance classes. When I was offered the opportunity to go to California and perform at Disneyland, I thought this trip was going to be the escape I was dreaming of. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as I had imagined. The pressure of my dance school had got the better of me, and my parents decided it was best to pull me out of the trip. I had to watch all of my dance friends hop on a plane and fly to Disneyland, spiralling further into my teenage angst.
I believe everything happens for a reason, and not going on that trip to Disneyland may have been the best thing to ever happened to me…
The Day That Changed Everything
It was a Monday, and I was sitting in assembly, bored out of my brains as our headmaster rattled off some story about pigeons (he had a strange obsession with birds!). I was close to dozing off to sleep when someone got up in front of our school and started talking about an overseas mission trip that they were running to Cambodia. I felt my heart starting to beat in my chest. I had never been overseas before, and I knew absolutely nothing about Cambodia, but something inside of me knew I needed to go on this trip.
That evening, I went home and immediately asked my parents if they would let their fifteen-year-old daughter travel to Cambodia for three weeks. Although I was certain that they would say no, I knew I had nothing to lose. And you know what? Whether it was due to the guilt of pulling me out of that Disneyland trip or simply a miracle from God, they said yes.
The caveat? I would have to fund the entire thing myself.
I spent the next few months working on $7.25 hourly wage at an awful fast food chain, saving every penny I earned. What I didn’t earn from my measly pay check I made up for through fundraisers, selling chocolates, washing cars and baking cookies, determined to earn the money before the quickly approaching deadline.
Just days before the trip was set to depart, I managed to hit my target. All of a sudden, the reality dawned on me. I was jetting off on my first overseas trip to Cambodia. It was my first time out of the country, my first extended time away from my family, and the first time I was truly going to be removed from my comfort zone.
Stepping into an Unknown World
I will never forget the moment I nervously stepped off the plane in Cambodia. I vividly recall walking out of the airport doors and straight onto a Tuk Tuk, where completely dazed. We spent the next thirty minutes winding through the chaotic roads of Phnom Pehn. It was all a sensory overload. The feeling of the thick, 38-degree air on my skin. The sound of incessant honking ringing in my ears. The incessant stench of rotten eggs wafting into my nose. The sight of malnourished children begging for money tearing at my heart.
The next three weeks opened my eyes to a whole world that existed outside of my comfortable little bubble.
I was confronted with the atrocious history of the Khmer Rouge as we visited the genocide museum and Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, where my fifteen year-old eyes gazed upon towers full of human skulls and bones. I saw what true poverty looked like as we went to hand food packages out at a massive garbage dump in the city, home to thousands of families, many of whom were forced to scavenge for food amongst the rubbish. I had my heart shattered into pieces as we visited a rescue home for girls who had been victims of sex trafficking. It was here that I met girls my age and younger that had been sold into sex slavery as children.
Despite all the suffering and hardships endured throughout this country, the Cambodians I encountered on this trip were some of the happiest, friendliest, kindest people I’d ever met.
I played with children who, despite living in harsh conditions, were overflowing with joy and happiness. I met girls who, despite having their innocence ripped away from them at a young age, were managing to turn their lives around. I met families who, despite having nothing, were some of the kindest people I’d ever encountered. For the first time, my eyes were opened to the reality that happiness is not defined by money. Many of the locals I met may have been physically poor, yet they were rich in relationships and community, and shared with each other the little that they had.
As I arrived home, it was lessons such as this that stuck with me. Throughout the trip, I began to see the immense value of learning from people of other races, cultures and religions. I finally saw that there was a much bigger world outside of my little bubble, and experienced first-hand the beauty of human diversity. Looking back, if I had never taken this trip to Cambodia, I might have never left my sheltered little bubble, I might have never opened myself up to the world or come to understand the sheer value of diversity.
I’m so glad I learnt this lesson early on, as the eight years of my life since this trip have been so enriched by the beautiful individuals I’ve encountered all over the world.
A lesson that EVERYONE needs to learn
Today, we live in a world that has become overrun with racism, bigotry and hate. It breaks my heart to see people victimized, ostracized and discriminated against because of their nationality, the colour of their skin, or their religious beliefs. Sure, these problems have been around for years, but in an increasingly progressive and globalized world, it feels like we are moving backwards instead of forward.
You might have seen a campaign that Momondo ran last year called the DNA Journey, which centred around embracing diversity. If you haven’t already seen it, I would encourage you to watch it now:
This video says it all. No matter our skin colour, our ethnicity or the country we were born in, at our core, we are all made up of the same DNA, and essentially, we are just one big family. If everyone could comprehend and believe this concept, I believe we would see an end to racial intolerance and xenophobia and our world might actually start living harmoniously.
In today’s day and age, the value of diversity is a message that we NEED to be spreading.
My Own DNA Journey
I don’t know about you, but after watching this video, I developed a deep desire to find out my own genetic origins. Knowing where we come from is so important- I believe it helps us understand just how interconnected we are as human beings. I recently got hold of a DNA test (which I would encourage everyone to do) and in two months, I’ll find out the results. If I am being honest, I’ve always assumed that I was of pure Australian/ British descent. I can’t wait to see the results and find out where else I have origins- whether it’s Germany, Norway or perhaps even China! I will be sure to publish the results on Instagram and on this blog post as soon as I receive them.
UPDATE: Super excited to announce that I’ve finally got my results back! Here are my DNA Origins:
- 34% Ireland
- 34% Europe West
- 17% Great British
- 6% Scandinavia
- 6% Iberian Peninsula
- 3% Finland/ North West Russia
Although I wasn’t too surprised to find out that I am 100% European, it was still really interesting to find out specifically what regions my ancestors came from. I had no idea I had so much Irish blood in me, and the 6% Iberian also came as a real surprise! Doing this DNA test has definitely sparked a desire within me to learn more about roots. I would encourage everyone to take the time to do research into their own genetic origins… I think it is so important to know where we came from, and you never know what you might find out!
I’d love to know… Would you or have you taken a DNA test to find out your origins?
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