I’m from an incredibly small town in Mississippi, USA, and for most of my life I rarely even left the East Coast, let alone out of the country. I spent my days with the same people in my tiny town and didn’t have much exposure to different cultures or world views. The people around me were comfortable sticking to their hometown and took comfort in sticking close to home, almost defining themselves with the set values and beliefs that were rarely challenged.
The rigidity in this small town ideation always bothered me. I knew there was more out there, and I wanted – no needed – to experience it. I left home at the age of 17 to start college at The United States Naval Academy. Even after 4 years of study there, I had yet to even go West of the Mississippi River. At 21, I finally got to leave the East Coast! I traveled west with the military and had my first assignment on the beautiful island of Oahu, Hawaii. I spent two years there. While the island is still considered the United States, the immediate change in lifestyle, culture, and scenery immediately made me yearn for more. I had never known such beauty to be in existence and I was floored at the magnificence.
Shortly after I arrived in Hawaii, the military deployed me on a ship to the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, and Red Sea. Military ships are able to pull into ports sometimes in order to give the crew some rest while building international relations with the host country. This was the first time I had truly left the United States. I was able to visit Singapore, Bahrain, Israel, and Thailand during my seven-month deployment at sea.
This was just the beginning for me.
The country that changed my view of the world forever was Israel. You could say it was because it was the first country further out of my comfort zone. Maybe it was the magic of the city, but Jerusalem opened my eyes, my heart, and my mind.
I was heading towards the Wailing Wall when all of the sudden I heard the Muslim call to prayer happening over the whole city. All of the sudden, in one swift moment, people were emerging from everywhere. Before I knew it, I was completely engulfed in a sea of Muslims making their way to the Mosque. It was so peaceful. They followed the call and I watched as hundreds of worshippers passed by me.
Once we got to the Wailing Wall, there were hundreds of Jews held their hands up to the wall and prayed. Rows deep, some would sit holding the Torah awaiting their turn at the wall and once they reached the front they slipped their hand-written prayer into the cracks between the centuries old stones.
I just watched all of these people, wearing different clothing, muttering different prayers, and living a totally different life than anything I had ever experienced. It was magnificent to me. Eye opening. An epiphany. Within moments of each other, I had been completely immersed into two of the world’s major religions. Every stereotype and preconceived notion I had conjured up over the years disappeared.
Fast forward four years later, the Navy offered me a job in Spain for two years and I couldn’t pass it up. My current job primarily deals with building international relations in a maritime setting around Europe and Africa. I’ve been so fortunate to travel with my job and help encourage and build everlasting relations amongst militaries in the surrounding area. While stationed in Europe, I have visited 27 countries in 18 months. I’ve delved into cultures I didn’t quite know existed anymore. My ignorance has diminished, and my mind has expanded. I’ve eaten delicious food all across the continent but the best part- I’ve met incredible and amazing people and travelers who yearn to see the world and who have taught me a thing or two along the way.
This fall, I will start a new job in the Navy as I become a Public Affairs Officer stationed in San Diego, California. There I will be working in journalism and photography for the Navy. My road to seeing the world is far from over.
I’ve been so fortunate to be in an occupation that both allows and supports my travels. However you are able to travel, my wish for you future travelers out there is to have at least one moment that leaves you awed, humbled, and inspired. Mine was in Jerusalem…where will yours be?
See more of Teresa’s travel on Instagram.