Although I would not say I’m a world class traveller, I can confidently say that I have been fortunate enough to travel (a fair amount). Throughout these travels I’ve learned quite a bit about myself and the world, and it has helped to prepare me for the “real world”.
I took a gap year after high school to go on exchange to Belgium, where I lived with a Belgian host family and went to a local high school. Learning French was my main goal for the year, but little did I know I would learn much more. Then last year I went on exchange to Spain as part of my undergrad studies and lived both in residence and in an off-campus apartment with other students. These were two very different experiences, from the differences in culture between Belgium and Spain to the amount of freedom and support I had, they both taught me a lot and gave me skills I will be taking with me into the workplace.
In addition to these exchanges, I have also explored other parts of Europe and some of Central America, each place opening my eyes to something new and strengthening certain skills for me. I have met other like-minded people in travels who have inspired me and taught me valuable life lessons. Thanks to these women and all my travels I am a better, more educated and understanding person.
Thanks to my own travels and listening to the stories of others, I have come up with a list of seven things travel can do to make you a great leader:
1. GET YOU OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE.
From being in a new place to not speaking the local language, this is one thing I can assure travel will do for you, and it is a scary, beautiful, and beneficial thing! Leaders will also be put into new situations they were not prepared for but being able to stay calm and be comfortable with stepping out of their comfort zone, they will be more effective as a leader.
This can be an issue for women as we are usually told to stay in our lane, but when travelling to new places and getting yourself around, asking for help, leading your friends around, it can slowly build confidence in anyone! When leaders project confidence, they can be more respected and believed, and this is especially important as a woman.
3. BECOME MORE UNDERSTANDING AND OPEN
My high school was quite small, and would not have been described as diverse, so going on exchange and travelling opened my eyes and taught me so much about others. At first, meeting everyone from all over the world made me feel uncultured, but as long as can start by listening to others, and by trying to understand their story and hear their hardships, you quickly become much more open. A good leader can be a resource to all and be able to listen and understand.
This was a huge one for me because I am from a mid-sized city in Burlington where I was always driven around to school, the movies, the mall and rarely went into larger cities. Going on exchange changed this completely and gave me to chance to master public transport, to find my way to places and ask for directions, and to take initiative to plan my own trips and other things in my life. Leaders also need to be independent in some of their work, as well as teach independence when they delegate work.
5. MAKING DECISIONS FOR YOURSELF AND STICKING TO THEM
This can be hard for women, and even just for those transitioning into adulthood, so I’ve found. When we are younger, we ask our parents/guardians if everything is okay, we ask them why things are the way they are, but as we get older, these decisions become our own and we have to stand by them and learn from them. Travel helps in this because it accelerates our choices, and usually sticking to them is all we can do, and teaches us that decisions are given more time than others and you won’t always have all the resources available to make the best decision. Leaders will often be put in similar situations where it is crucial for them to make important decisions.
6. ACCEPTING YOUR MISTAKES AND LEARNING FROM THEM
A great leader does not stop trying and learning from their many mistakes. Travel is a great way to get you accustomed with this because it is all too easy to make a mistake in dates, miss a ride, offend someone, or take the wrong turn and get lost. The amount of times I have gotten lost with a dead phone is laughable, but from all these times I eventually learned my lesson and instead of beating myself up I searched for a solution, which usually involved asking for help.
7. SEE WHAT LEADERS AROUND THE WORLD LOOK LIKE
Due to differing cultures, I believe that successful leaders around the world can all teach each other something. If we pay attention while travelling to the locals around us, even to the other tourists, we can learn a lot from them. From how Spanish women are breaking down barriers set by the slowly-changing machismo culture, to how Germany’s female President, Angela Merkel, is fighting for her country in a new light, repairing their image and strengthening their economy, showing the world how great a female leader can be. Although I have not travelled to all corners of the world, I look forward to doing so one day so that I can learn from local leaders and what they do to set themselves and others up for success. I want to see how they adapt their country or region’s culture to today’s global society to improve their position.