Over the past 15 years I have lived in four countries and visited over 30 countries in many capacities…as a student studying abroad, a short-term worker, a graduate student, a peace corps volunteer, and a humanitarian worker.
Being a sculptor and painter, my experiences shaped who I am and how I think about my art…
Here’s what I learned…
Travel helps me see the world through a different lens.
When I backpack or visit another country I give up my comfort zone and commit to the unknown. Traveling gives me no option but to live in the present and this has been a wonderful and often times challenging way to get in touch with my true self and to tap it for creative inspiration.
For example, in 2007 I traveled to Northern Uganda just after the government and rebels had signed a peace treaty ending a 20-year civil war. When my colleagues and I arrived in the dusty town of Gulu after an 8-hour car ride, we were acutely aware that we needed to be checked into our hotel by dusk…after all there was still unrest in the region. I have never been so consistently aware of my surroundings and senses. And as a result, I still vividly remember every detail of that trip down to the uniforms of the militia, the smell of the air, and the curve of the trees.
When I returned to the United States I went inward for weeks in order to process the experience. What came out was an immense sense of gratitude for my life and privileges as an American….and a deep sense of sadness at the destruction that I had seen. As a result, I felt an intense need to create.
Up until that time I had always used art as a way to express my sense of victimhood. I created dark brooding paintings that only made me even sadder when I looked at them. However, after witnessing the after effects of war, I no longer identified myself as a victim. Instead, I only wanted to create beautiful three-dimensional artwork that celebrated my life….so several months later I took my first ceramics class and I have never looked back.
Travel reduced my limiting beliefs.
During my travels, I experienced cultures that were so different from my own that I embraced the concept that nothing is abnormal, it’s just different from what I am used to. For example, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria, I lived in constant confusion for the first six months. The way Bulgarians looked at the world seemed so different and frustrating.
Then I met a teacher that changed everything. She lived in a small city about an hour from my town, but had traveled throughout Western Europe for teacher trainings. She explained to me that the current Bulgarian school system taught students to just memorize facts as where most Western schools taught students using the critical thinking method. I learned that the critical thinking method asks students to interact with the teacher in an effort to solve problems and to think about things ‘critically.’ It took a few weeks for this concept to settle into my mind but then I finally understood that there wasn’t such a big gap between how I looked at the world and how Bulgarians looked at the world. The simple difference was that I thought that I could change the world (while many of them didn’t) simply because I had been taught to problem solve.
Over the next year, we worked together to put together a teacher training for my town. After the training, teachers in my town reported better behaved and engaged students and more lively and enjoyable classes. It was an amazing experience for both me and the teachers.
As a result, I truly embraced my ability to problem solve. I now know that the biggest limiting belief that I can have is to think that a problem is insurmountable, and I have therefore made problem solving the heart of my art. I am driven to innovate, experiment, fail, and try again; and the whole time I know in my heart that I can create what’s in my head; I just have to get rid of whatever limiting belief is holding me back.
Travel made me more independent in mind and spirit.
When I was in my late teens I got incredibly self-conscious whenever I felt that people misunderstood me. However, when I started to travel, I grew comfortable being the ‘one that was different’ and even more self-confident in instances where I was misunderstood.
For example, while I was getting my masters degree in Australia I became friends with people who were from all over the world. I loved asking them about the quirks of their own cultures and trying new foods they recommended and vice versa. In this context my differences were celebrated and as a result I began to value how I perceive the world.
Later, as I delved into the world of art this became invaluable; after all my greatest asset as an artist is my point of view. Being creative is courageous enough but having the self-confidence to value what I create is key…because if I don’t value my work then I can’t confidently share it with the rest of the world.
This is a lesson that I learn at a higher level every single day, but I would never have had the courage to take the first step if it hadn’t been for my experiences traveling.
To learn more about Maggie and her amazing adventures as a traveler and artist, check out her book, Adventures of a Curious Sculptor: A Memoir. It’s currently under an amazing price promotion: The book will be available on Kindle for $0.99 on February 1!
You can also get it for the following prices on the following days:
- February 2, $1.99
- February 4, $2.99
- February 5, $3.99
- February 6, $4.99
- February 8, $7.99