By Cara Scott
Memories dissipate. Real people last forever.
I had never cried on a plane before July 29, 2023. I’d done a great deal of traveling throughout college, much of it international. Whether traveling with other students, my family, or on my own, I’d typically spent my time abroad exploring beautiful sites, studying a nation’s history and culture, and tasting local delicacies. This mode of travel has served me well over the years: I enjoyed many new experiences and ate a lot of good food. I know, however, that every time I headed home, I was fatigued and ready to be back in a more comfortable environment.
This past summer, as I prepared for a month-long immersion program in Paris, I picked up The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse. I’d begun reading this book as I entered college and thought it would be fitting to finish before the start of my senior year. When I reached his chapter entitled “Travel to See,” I paid close attention—the chapter makes an excellent argument for how to travel well. Sasse expounds the value of travel for young adults, everything from the benefits of solo travel vs. traveling with companions to advice on packing light.
Doing vs. Connecting
I remembered, as I began my time in Paris, a story Sasse recounted about sharing a meal with German widows during his studies abroad in Europe. These women told the young Sasse about their experiences living through World War II, sharing stories hardly conceivable to an American of his age. Studying the history of World War II was one thing—hearing it described from the mouths of those who survived it was another.
Each time I had traveled in the past, my goal was to do. Now, influenced by Sasse’s advice about traveling to see, my intention became to connect.
In keeping with this objective, I devoted almost every morning and evening in Paris to fellowship with my host family. I woke up at 6 a.m. each day so I could spend an hour and a half listening to French radio and chatting with the other multinational students living in my homestay before leaving for school. Rather than staying out late at night, I returned home for dinner every evening. I spent hours listening to my French host mother’s stories about her childhood in rural Normandy and conversing with my Iranian housemate, a recent immigrant to France who would not see his homeland for the foreseeable future.
The three of us—one from an openly secular society, one from the Islamic Republic, and one from the Bible Belt—would often stay up late discussing religion and the existence of God. These conversations not only opened my eyes to the beliefs of others but also breathed life into my own knowledge of the Gospel. I never understood the phrase “made in the image of God” as well as when I had to explain it in a foreign language to people totally unfamiliar with the doctrines of evangelical Christianity.
A New Mindset
Unlike past travels, this trip changed me. I now feel comfortable conversing with almost anyone, including strangers, and have learned how to organically steer a conversation toward the topic of religion. Furthermore, I have a newfound desire to meet more people from more places and speak more languages. I did my fair share of “touristy” activities while in Paris—yet I rarely reminisce about my visit to the Musée d’Orsay or the afternoon I spent wandering the Tuileries.
Not a day goes by, however, that I don’t think about and pray for the friends I made in Paris.
I sobbed on my flight home. I didn’t want to leave. Furthermore, I was neither exhausted nor eager to return to the comfort of the United States. My time abroad was life-giving, not draining. Instead of merely consuming the culture, I spent my time forming relationships that shaped and grew me. In the future, no matter how short the trip, my goal in traveling won’t be to visit as many museums or eat as much local cuisine as possible. Memories of a place become fuzzy until they can only be remembered through photos. A connection with a person, however, leaves an impact that lasts forever.
This article is available in edited form at Cogitare Magazine. Read it here.
About the Author
Cara Scott is a senior IFF research fellow studying Philosophy and French at Grove City College. During her time at GCC, she has served in leadership for French Club, Philosophy Club, and Student Government Association, and has edited and written for numerous GCC student publications. She has worked as a teaching assistant for the GCC Communications department and as a marketing fellow for the Institute for Faith and Freedom. Cara loves learning languages, and in her spare time studies Spanish, Russian, and Farsi in addition to French. She has studied in France for the past two summers and plans to return after graduation to work and continue learning in the French language. Upon completing her studies, Cara hopes to work in translation and international ministry while traveling as much as she possibly can. You can find more of her work at caraescottcom.wordpress.com.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grove City College, the Institute for Faith and Freedom, or their affiliates.