By Connor Mullins, NAU student studying in Hong Kong 

Traveling with NAU’s Study Abroad programs has shaped my life. The person I was before my first trip abroad and who I am now is the difference between night and day.

NAU Study Abroad programs have taken me to Australia, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, the Netherlands, Belgium, South Korea, and China. With any luck, I will also be visiting Italy with the NAU Model United Nations team this upcoming spring break.

Of all these places, the one that most resonates with me is Nicaragua. It is the least developed economically. However the kindness of the people there and the variety of life that I saw was astounding. It is easy to forget that people can live without Facebook, cell phones, and all the other trappings of the American middle class— Nicaragua was a strong reminder that we can. I also learned that international free-trade is no friend to countries like Nicaragua, who lacks great political power. These simple truths helped shake my worldview and provided some of the most important lessons of my travels abroad.

In the United States, we grow up learning one culture, one worldview and set of priorities. In studying abroad, I have seen that our culture represents only one shade on a color palette that is rich in diversity and beauty. I have observed that the meaning of life has about 7.125 billion answers. I have learned that priorities, history and questions of right and wrong are subjective.

Most importantly, studying abroad has helped me understand that everything that divides us from countries, races, genders, boundaries to different cultures only exists in our minds. Through travel I have started to grasp the fact that we are all human—regardless of our location on the globe.

We focus on the divisions between each other because as long as we stay walled up in our respective niches in the world, divisions appear to be all that exist. In traveling, however, differences between people wash away like debris on the beach— the waves of shared human experience patiently sweeping aside any barriers that we thought to be real. By studying abroad, I have learned that the love I have for my family should be no different from the love I feel towards all people—regardless of where they live. In my travels I have found purpose in life: to help bring humanity together and to work for the happiness and well being of all.