How travelling and living abroad turned my life upside down

Sofie Terp Clausen
BURSTOUT Contributor

Sofie currently lives in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she was born and raised. However, despite her age (24), Sofie has lived, studied, worked and volunteered in USA and Kenya. She is a passionate traveller, who plans her adventures around experiencing new cultures, people and food. Sofie is also a board member of the United Nations Youth Association in Denmark and has volunteered for several smaller NGOs during her travels.

You know, many articles cover the topic of happiness through living for experiences, instead of living for materialistic things. Using your money to buy experiences and adventures that lift your spirit and bring you happiness for longer; working to live and not living to work. And though this has reached a point where it may sound repetitive and cliché, or perhaps utopian, this is the way I have chosen to live my life. I build my life around the experiences, adventures, and people around me. I work to live and to travel, even my work and studies involve travelling and experiencing new places and cultures, and I am in the process of trimming down my already, to society’s standards, small amount of material possessions. The ultimate goal is to fit all my necessities in one or two suitcases. Of course I will keep some objects that hold significant meaning or things that brings a smile to my face. After all, for me it is not about living small, it is about creating a space where I can be happy and free at the same time. It is about a space that allows me to move around and experience the world, but feel at home with what I have with me.

All of this started somewhere, the need to be on the move, the need to experience new things, and live a dynamic life. These needs have caused me to become restless when staying in the same place for more than a year, even sometimes for just a couple of months. Let me explain where this drive for adventure comes from.

The Raw Reality
You get on the plane and you have this idea of what you are going to see, what you will experience. And then you get there, and even though time and time again the idea you had is different from reality, we still have a tendency to do the same next time; to build this world in our head only to have it challenged by the raw reality of what you then see and meet. This is both good and bad, to some extent it challenges your expectations of life and you evolve from experiencing that your ideas of something is far from the truth and reality. However at the same time you also limit your experience of reality. An example is my experience of volunteering in New Orleans, USA, where I knew I was going to work with these poor children, and based on that my mind instantly started making up ideas of what I was going to encounter throughout this volunteering experience, how the kids would probably be feeling etc. What I experienced was the complete opposite: kids running around laughing and playing, seemingly not affected by the broader conditions of their lives, their family’s income, and the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Damage that is still very much visible all around the area of the city. Based on this experience that challenged my ideas of reality and the inspiration I felt in witnessing the raw reality I was met with, caused me to reconsider how I engage with the world around me, how I travel and experience. When I then went to Kenya to do development work, I decided to open my mind, to leave those preconceived ideas behind. And it is hard, because we seem to be hardwired to think ahead, to contemplate, and theorize. It turns out that clearing your mind and experiencing reality with an open mind requires training. It is still not possible for me to completely leave behind all preconceived ideas of reality, and it might never be, but moving to Kenya with a more open mind and more importantly an awareness of the effect of preconceived ideas on the experience of reality, carried fruit. When visiting Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, I didn’t just see what I saw in New Orleans, I saw much more. Instead of focusing on verifying or falsifying preconceived ideas and thereby locking my focus on specific aspects of reality, I saw all the potential and capabilities of the reality I was met with, I was inspired to a greater extent by the people, the culture and the place.  This leads us to the next aspect that drives my need for adventure.

The Inspiring People
When you travel you are confronted with cultures and people different from whom you usually engage with. This is to me one of the most inspiring things about adventures and travelling; experiencing how others live their lives on the basis of the conditions that surround them. Meeting people that have nothing, in a monetary and materialistic sense, but are immensely inspiring and show so much potential and drive in areas of innovation, social entrepreneurship, art, music etc., showed me the value of simple existence; a non-materialistic mindset.
In addition to the people I have met that have been rich and well-off in a materialistic sense, but who have chosen to uproot their lives and move across the world to make a difference for others, social entrepreneurs and development enthusiasts that have dedicated their lives to helping and inspiring others. These experiences taught me the value of living through experiences and interactions in search of happiness, rather than building my life around materialistic expectations of my path.

The Amazing Food
I know I said “non-materialistic” way of life, but one thing that will be forever connected to my happiness is food. I travel for food and it is probably one of the more “materialistic” things that I will put money towards. When I travel I will pay that little extra money to experience place- or culture-specific food traditions. To me it is a large part of experiencing another culture and of socializing with the people around me. I could spend hours and hours talking about my various food experiences, but one thing I will say is, that though some food might surprise you or seems repelling at first thought; try it out! Yes there is a very real chance that you may not like it, after all our taste pallets are formed by our cultural upbringing, the food that has surrounded us for most of our lives. But there is also a chance that it will be amazing, that you will be going back for more and that it will be part of the stories you tell. Food holds a magnificent amount of information about the culture and the people you meet on your adventures and in many cases there is a story to go with it. Just as the reality and the people I meet on my adventures, food inspires me to experience more, to travel more and to open my mind to new possibilities, like the possibility of intestines tasting good if it is only cooked differently (I am still waiting for that day!).

The Volunteering “Epiphany”
As you can imagine all of these musing and thoughts about happiness, life and reality comes from a place. Before travelling and volunteering I was unsure of my path, where I wanted to go in life and what exactly I wanted to do, I was at a loss and needed direction. Through my travels and my volunteer experiences, my mind opened to the possibilities of connecting what quickly became my passions; adventures and helping others. I realized that it is possible to live a life dedicated to developing your own and others happiness, where creating experiences, adventures and connecting with people becomes your work and your personal journey. Though I have a long way to go in changing my life and my mindset I am well on my way. The drive for adventure is there, fueled by the continuous stream of experiences and people that inspire me. I have already been met with some of the challenges of living this way. The restlessness created by the urge for adventures and a dynamic life, the loss of people, friends and colleagues, that you meet along the way but never see again, the pull towards home, your family and friends, these challenges are all there, but so far I have only experienced that the benefits far outweigh the struggles you pass. Balancing these challenges with the benefits to my happiness and my sense of purpose in life requires continuous work, as with all kinds of happiness; it is a project for life.

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