I have always been a firm believer that it is not where you are or where you go that defines your experience. Rather, our experience is very much a product of the people that surround us – those who take the journey with us, and those who we meet along the way.
This is a general truth, but it is something which always rings particularly true for me when I travel.
I just spent two months in Italy on a fieldwork trip. I went to conduct research for my PhD project (and to visit my family while I was there).
I did those things.
But through reconnecting with old friends and making new ones in the most random ways, I have met some truly wonderful people.
These people, without knowing me, welcomed me into their homes. They took me on tours of their cities. They shared coffee and food with me, offered for me to sleep in their spare rooms, and introduced me to their parents and siblings.
An old friend who I hadn’t spoken to in four years organised for a whole group of her friends to sit together and participate in data collection for my thesis.
A girl I had never met brought me into her family home, took me out for gelato and showed me around Genova. Another told me to jump on the back of her scooter, took me out to lunch by the sea, and introduced me to her family and to Termoli.
A professor I had met only via email invited me to his lessons, gave me books to take home, and shared my notice to recruit participants with his whole class so that I could collect a sufficient amount of data.
I came to Italy to study, to conduct fieldwork, to get things done.
But along the way, I have met some of the most beautiful people who have gone out of their way to help me, a near-stranger.
Many of them have argued that their kind deeds were only small acts. Maybe they were, in the grand scheme of things.
But when you are trying to conduct a project which is reliant on the participation of others, a sudden wave of willing participants is a blessing. I cannot conduct research without the help of others, and to have met so many lovely individuals who have been willing to help me to expand my project has been far more than I anticipated.
And aside from the research, when you are homesick and lonely, an afternoon coffee can make a big difference. Friendly smiles and hugs are invaluable.
So thank you so much to everyone I reconnected with while conducting my research, and thank you so much to all the new friends I made. You are the brilliant people who made my trip what it was, and who, through showing a little kindness and giving me a little of your time, helped me in more ways than you could ever imagine.