What Travel Teaches Us

In another life, I worked at a large international law firm, and one of my responsibilities was interviewing entry-level paralegal candidates. These candidates came to us straight out of undergrad with a variety of academic backgrounds; some had internship or school leadership activities; but almost all had studied abroad at some point and done considerable traveling during that period.

My favorite question to ask was, “What was the most important thing you learned while traveling abroad?”

Most candidates answered something to do with the academics they studied, or about having honed their language skills.

Unless the rest of the interview impressed me deeply, I couldn't enthusiastically endorse those candidates.

The answers I was looking for?

How living abroad had changed them.

How living somewhere they didn’t speak the language well had taught them humility.

How living in another culture taught them that different isn’t synonymous with bad or wrong, it’s simply different.

My favorite answers?

“I learned how to read a map in a language I don’t know!”

“I learned how to communicate even when I didn’t speak a word of the language.”

“I learned that there’s always another train coming - I could cope with changing plans.”

“I learned to rely on myself.”


Those are the candidates I wanted - people who learned something about themselves while traveling and living abroad and more than that, were self-aware enough to recognize what those experiences had taught them.

So, given that most people like to hire people that remind them of themselves, what did has traveling abroad taught me?

That I am capable of solving complex problems on the fly.

That I am quick to physically orient myself in a new place.

That admitting you need help is not a failure.

That alone is not the same thing as lonely.

What about you? What has travel taught you about yourself?

Kathleen SullivanComment