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Lorelei is a great friend of UnbridledACTS. Below she shares a reflection on her last year in the Middle East.

‘Wanderlust’ plagues our modern world; this strong desire to travel overwhelms our culture as people seek an escape from the mundane by touring a foreign land. Images and information about distant places flood our senses. Travel for the sake of traveling is romanticized to the point where experiencing new cultures becomes a selfish endeavor.

What is it truly like to embark on a journey to a country that is anything but romanticized by the media today? How do you set aside assumptions and fears and selflessly step into a culture vastly different from our own? And how do you travel in order to learn and genuinely care for the people you encounter?

In August of 2018, I packed up and traveled to the Middle East with a couple of friends and half a dozen strangers for an internship. We studied Arabic, became well-versed in the culture, and cared for young women. Hoping to experience the region in its purest sense, I wanted to find commonalities with other women, learn from them, and hopefully empower them in their own strength.

Upon arrival at my final destination, culture shock hit, then I spent the rest of my time adapting accordingly. Adaptation is a real necessity, but in the haze of our wanderlust, no one emphasizes its importance to one’s travels. Like learning to swim, cultural adaptation teaches us to go slow, breath, function without exertion, and enjoy the experience. Only after swimming skills are acquired can you play and have fun.

Harbor view sunrise

So, how do you: 

  • adapt while working with the women you have already met?
  • discover that what you’ve been told about the culture growing up is not reality? 
  • process the beautiful interactions you wish your home culture possessed while seeing the ugly-side of that same culture?
  • reconcile different views and when that affects your day-to-day encounters, how do you respond?

These are a fraction of the questions and challenges while on the wild ride of cross-cultural travel. Blessings abound in 10 months of befriending young women, enjoying the immense hospitality engrained in their culture, helping with their English, and teaching them leadership skills. However, the lack of freedom for these women, and the strict way their lives are monitored–not just by their families but also by the society–is a hard pill to swallow.

It is difficult to communicate the idea of empowerment when women are told they are incapable their whole lives. As a woman staying in the Middle East, even I was limited in my ability to speak the way I want. So, I found it a constant battle between adhering to the culture or deciding to expose them to truth. Truth that would provide freedom to fight for what they believe. The truth to take a place of leadership for other young girls in their country. Truth to be empowered.

True traveling is immersion in the culture. Whether it’s for two weeks, 10 months, or years—immersion is lovelier than we dream, more overwhelming than anticipated, and harder than ever expected.

Giving into the desire to wander, to step outside our comfort zone, is more than just a physical experience… is a glimpse of the ways our wandering souls seek Truth. As we exchange experiences and truth with those we encounter, we discover a little—or a lot—about ourselves and the way the world was created.

(To be continued…)