Traveling: Why It’s Important For Those From Appalachia  

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain

Imagine this: You’re standing in a stuffy underground structure with what seems like hundreds of other people. The train comes barreling through the tunnel at what seems like warp speed. You hear an announcement over the intercom tell you to “mind the gap.” Passengers begin to exit the carts and scatter in all directions! You enter as soon as possible or you will be left behind.

Yay! Congratulations….you have successfully caught a ride on the Underground or “tube” in London, England!

The tube was a pretty stressful place for me at times. Want to know why? Well it’s plain and simple….I’m from Eastern Kentucky and had NEVER experienced a tube or what we call here in the U.S. the subway.

*An interesting tid bit of information*

As previously mentioned, in the United States we call underground transportation the subway, in London the subway is an underground pedestrian walkway to help you get across busy streets without running through traffic!

Anyway…back on topic.

I want to first say that I am very honored and excited to be guest posting on Helene in Between! I am so jealous that she is moving to Europe ;).

I was able to study abroad in London, England for an entire month while in college. This was a life changing experience for me. Very few people in my family have been able to travel abroad (they traveled to Canada and on cruises).

I am a very determined individual. I like to sometimes do things out of my comfort zone. That is why I marched right into the Study Abroad office at Eastern Kentucky University and told the lady I wanted more information about studying abroad. It was on like Donkey Kong after that! I obsessed over my upcoming trip to London. I know I had to make people sick with my excitement and excessive talking about the trip. 

For me studying abroad got me out of my comfort zone. But it’s not out of the ordinary for me to do something crazy and out there like this. Some of my family were in shock that I would just up and travel to another country alone. Well the term “alone” is used loosely because I was traveling in a group. But to my family that might as well have been alone.

While studying abroad I was able to experience things I would have NEVER been able to do back home. I was lucky enough to be in London during the 2012 Olympics (talk about an amazing experience).  Just being in a city with over 8 million people and over 100 different languages being spoken was an experience in itself.

Some background about me:

As a child I bounced back and forth from my parents (dad in Ohio…mom in Kentucky). To me Kentucky has always been home. I am from a small….VERY small….town in Eastern Kentucky. Small as in 81 people live in the city limits and there are less than 5,000 people in the entire county small. The nearest Walmart is 30 minutes away, it’s not even a super Walmart….if you want that you’re looking at an hour drive. Movies and nice restaurants? You’re also looking at an hour to hour and half drive. Yeah crazy I know!

Coming from such a small rural area it is easy to get stuck in your ways and just live with what life has handed you. There are times that living in EKY is just plain awful! Plain and simple. I am not afraid to admit that I have lived in poverty as a child and in my adult life. Poverty is something that just comes with the territory when you live in small rural areas. It’s not always a definite thing but for some people it’s inevitable. My mother worked her tail off to provide for our family so for us it was not by choice!

When I realized that it was even possible for me to travel and see other places….you bet I was doing everything I could to make it possible. I was over just accepting what life threw at me. So when life gave me lemons….I turned them into a trip of a lifetime!

I honestly wish others in Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky would take the initiative to get out and experience the world!  Appalachia is beautiful and sometimes people travel here to see the beauty that it holds. BUT when hollers and small town life is all you know…you’re truly missing out. It’s actually funny because when people act crazy/goofy when in a new environment….my family always says “you need to get out of the holler more!” This is a pretty common phrase where I’m from haha.

For some…traveling helps them appreciate the mountains and simplicity so much more. For others…it is an eye opening experience to show to them that they do not have to be a result of their surroundings….a result of their raising. Through travel they can see that there is more to life than poverty and living paycheck to paycheck. Through travel they can be acclimated to other cultures and religions. I’m not going to lie EKY’ians can be some of the most closed minded and stubborn people you will ever meet. I believe a little bit of traveling could help them tremendously. However, some of them I wouldn’t change for the world!

Now before some of you start getting into a hissy…ya’ll know I’m telling the truth. I’m sorry. For me it’s sad when you talk to grown adults who have never been farther than maybe two counties over. This is heartbreaking. They have missed out on what I see as one of the greatest things in life. For most Appalachians or EKY’ians they are not able to travel due to lack of funds to travel. Heck some of them have to choose between food and bills. Traveling isn’t even an afterthought. It is something that will get a laugh and “yeah right” response when discussed.

Without student loans and scholarships I would have NEVER been able to see London, Paris, Scotland, Stonehenge, Cambridge, Oxford, or Wales. I would have NEVER been able to attend an Olympic Event. But you know what? I worked my tail off on scholarships. I harassed the financial aid office on campus. I was a go-getter and it paid off. I took the initiative and don’t regret one second.

I wish that other people from Eastern Kentucky would stop thinking it was impossible and just do it. Yes I will be paying off those loans for years to come. Do I care? Absolutely not! I gladly accept that debt because it was something that made a difference in my life. I will forever cherish those memories. I am still friends with some of the people who were on the trip. Some from my school…some from completely different states. We have a bond now…we experienced a city and country that was amazing.

I am so thankful for all of my wonderful memories and I love telling my children about them. I have told them that I want to help them anyway possible to study abroad while they are in college. I want them to have the same great memories and to be able to experience other cultures and countries!

Traveling is important for everyone. But when you come from Appalachia and everything seems impossible and out of reach…traveling is a game changer. You appreciate the experiences SOOOO much more!

No matter where you’re from, no matter your socioeconomic status…….

YOU CAN MAKE YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE!

Don’t ever let anyone tell you any different. Don’t be 30 years old and regret the opportunities you didn’t take. You don’t have to be a result of your raising.  You don’t have to be the product of your environment. No one is going to hand you this opportunity on a silver platter. Carpe diem my friends, carpe diem!

I’d love to hear about your studying abroad experiences (especially if you’re from Appalachia)! Where’d you go and was it worth it?

Kirstie

 

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