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There’s traveling. Picking a random spot on the map, an exotic name of a place. For me, that’s how travel used to be. Exploring the exotic. The further away it seemed, the more exciting it seemed. When I first came to Malaysia, it was like that. Fellow travelers told me about beautiful islands, less backpackers, while guidebooks spoke of diversity, food, and modernity. I came to explore, and found friendship and more.

In the four years since, though, traveling has changed. As I became more connected with the world, through the experiences of my past travels, and through the friends I made in places like San Francisco and New York, friends from different walks of like all around the world, I began to see the world differently. No longer did a map reveal what was out there. Instead, I began to seek more personal narratives from the world. Winter of last year, my European trip was my first attempt at a new way of traveling, one that was far more intensely personal.

No longer could I distance myself from where I was, enter a country and try to experiences my feelings there, through what I saw and who I met. Now, I was visiting my good friends, who led lives very different from what was considered stereotypical for that country, and I strove to see their home in their eyes. In turn, I let them see their country through my eyes, and together, we created a new reality, one that was personal to us. Our own experiences, tied together. Just as I will never be able to remember San Francisco without my best friends Yusuke, Suny, William, Maya, and others, I could no longer explain France, Germany, or Italy without thinking of my friends there.

Korea, though, was ever more personal. There, I was visiting one of the people closest to me, Young. Korea wasn’t just a place on the map, unexplored territory, but a place that had already changed me profoundly through her, and our experiences together in the United States, Canada, and Costa Rica. Though we were no longer together, we couldn’t ignore our past. In the end, it was an incredible experience, not just for me, but for her too.

Before, I could tell you what I thought about places I visited with no prior expectations. Bulgaria was a beautiful country of warm people, feta cheese, and tomatoes. Malaysia was a diverse country where languages, cultures, and religions mixed, sometimes cleanly, other-times, not so much. As for Korea, I can only tell you about the Korea I experienced with Young, her family, her friends, and what we experienced together. I can post photos of what I saw, and let you make your own judgements, but to really understand my experience there, you have to know me.

Traveling has changed greatly for me in the past four years. Everywhere where there are people, there is good and bad, and always, potential.

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