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Posted: February 1, 2014 10:00 p.m.

4-H Forever: Don't merely travel; experience the world

As seniors talk about college applications and acceptances, I can’t help but think back.

I received armloads of brochures from around the country after taking the PSAT, but few seemed attractive.

The journalism programs at the University of Southern California and Northwestern were the only two that held a candle to the University of Georgia in my mind, so I requested applications.

USC’s packet arrived with a sticker page of little barcodes like you’d find on library books, and a note assuring that students were more than numbers, but could you please affix one barcode to everything you sent to them?

I admit, it didn’t reassure me that I’d be anything more than a number in California.

Northwestern still seemed like a good choice; after all, my great aunt and cousins lived near the Illinois campus.

My cousin and I had written since we were barely old enough to write, and I thought back over all her stories of snow.

Last week, we all laughed as we raced back and forth to the windows at each claim that someone spotted a snowflake. But even back in high school I had a sneaking suspicion that I wasn’t cut out for the kind of snow Illinois sees each year.

And so in the end, I applied to only one place: the University of Georgia.

While a student, a friend dragged me to the study abroad office several times as she tried to figure out where she could afford to study. It sounded exotic, but somehow I couldn’t imagine doing it myself.

For that matter, I didn’t even like trying new foods. Forget sushi, I wouldn’t even eat a hotdog with mustard!

Don’t get me wrong, I did travel some — family vacations to Florida or Illinois, 4-H exchange trips to Pennsylvania and Virginia, and a beautiful tour of rural Scotland.

But I can’t recall a time that I’d set out to travel, choosing a destination and planning to go.

My cousin sent me wooden shoes from Holland, and years later he and his wife filled their home with souvenirs from abroad.

A middle school coach’s daughter visited our class with stories of her work in Sierra Leone.

In high school I had an exchange student friend from Japan.

But I still didn’t have a yearning for travel.

A few years later, I read a piece in the church’s newsletter about the mission trip to Belize. I even commented aloud to a friend how I had plenty of vacation time and the trip would only be $200, "so it’s too bad I can’t go."

But why not, the friend challenged?

And so I went.

And like so many others before me, I can say that one week in a third world country changed my life more than any impact I imagine I made there.

I took a suitcase of hand-me-down clothes and stuffed animals, plus 72 jelly bracelets and 72 plastic barrettes to a village where children had to share pencils in school.

But these people weren’t sad. They weren’t embarrassed by their dirt floor, one-room homes and cooking fires. They were proud to show us all they had, and to invite us into their homes.

I am still humbled by the memories.

Aside from the new perspective given me by the experience, though, I find that it also opened my eyes to adventure.

As my friend said, "Why not?"

The 4-H’ers groan each time I mention Vegemite (I hope that the shelf life really is forever, because at the rate it’s disappearing we’ll be eating it at my retirement!), but I hope that little tastes of adventure spark their own desires to experience the world.

I don’t say "see the world," because I hope for each of them so much more.

I want them to be transformed by new people and places.

Whether on short visits or long, I want them to taste the foods, meet the people and learn other perspectives, and come back home to share those experiences and make our home a richer place.

Perhaps the crepes a 4-H’er made after her trip to France, England and Israel will inspire the next adventure.

After all, why not?

Terri Kimble Fullerton is a Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at tkimble@uga.edu.

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