As I sit in a coffee shop surrounded by peers trying to start this essay, I realize that I don’t really know how to encapsulate my feelings about this trip. As much as I like to call myself a writer, and if I’m feeling extra egotistical, I’d say a poet, I struggle to find the words to describe such an experience.
I’ll be frank — I don’t get out much. I used to have a pretty bad habit of getting comfortable. For the past few years, whenever I’ve realized that I’m becoming complacent with whatever situation I’m in, I try to find a new avenue to explore and expand my horizons. I wanted to take this trip so that I could experience what it’s like to be about 6,300 miles out of my comfort zone.
I’m happy to say that I was uncomfortable in the absolute best way possible.
I brought my camera expecting to take about twenty or so pictures. I love photography, but I was so used to the monotony of my environment that I forgot what it was like to stop and marvel at the smaller things. To my surprise, I took well over 1,500 pictures. In hindsight, I might have gone a little overkill, but I’m glad I did.
When I was in that moment, I would find a specific shot that I wanted. I’d get it, and then a million little what-ifs popped into my head. What if I shifted a little bit to my right? What if I tried crouching down to get just a little closer? Instead of worrying about how I looked or if I could even pull it off, I just went for whatever shot caught my eye.
It was in these unabashed rushes to experiment with any feasible variable for my photos that I realized chasing this creative burst was the most, for lack of a better term, “me” I’ve felt in a while.
I realized that I didn’t have to worry about appearances or about how I would come off to the other members of the group. I could simply be myself and express myself in the most authentic way possible — in my ridiculously fast-paced, nonsensical, extremely scatterbrained way.
Everyone accepted me instantly. In essentially no time at all, every anxiety or worry I felt about the trip evaporated right before my eyes. There was an incredible unity and spirit in the group that pushed all of us to grow in so many ways.
Every time I saw someone working on an article, I would get excited to see what they wrote and try to improve my own writing, and any time I saw someone take a cool picture, I would run around for twenty minutes looking for a shot that was just as unique. Maybe I’m competitive, but I’d like to think that I’m not the only one who was getting inspired by my peers.
The trip wasn’t just an excuse to socialize though. While we were there, I learned so much about how to manage my time and how to handle business while still having a blast. Writing out drafts and combing through my countless photos on the train rides felt tedious at the time, but I’m really glad that I would do it then. That way, whenever we had free time I could be out and about in the cities making memories.
Additionally seeing so much of Japan’s culture and history through the shrines and temples was an absolute treat. Before we left, I was incredibly excited to see how Japanese architecture in these holy sites differed from what we had at home, and it did not disappoint.
Seeing the sprawling Fushimi Inari shrine cover the entire mountain we were on blew my mind. The only reference point I had for religious sites was the church in my parent’s neighborhood. Every turn was absolutely jaw-dropping in the best way possible.
More than anything though, to me at least, the trip represented a chance to meet new people and see them chase their passions the way I chase mine. I wanted to meet and make new friends who liked me for me: the real me.
And so here I am, sitting in this coffee shop back home in San Marcos, still surrounded by these incredible people. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I really belong in a group, and that feels really nice.
I want to keep feeling like that.
I won’t bombard you with each and every photo that means something to me, but I will leave you with a few that speak volumes to me. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.