Steve and I were very relieved when we got the text from Jennifer that she was safely back in the Jia (dorm) in Shanghai after spending four weeks traveling through Southeast Asia with two classmates. Our prayers were answered because – amazingly to me – they never got on the wrong bus or train and didn’t end up in a scary dark part of Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. Gastric distress didn’t happen until the last few days of the trip and thankfully, she had packed the Costco size box of Imodium so that she could survive the final bus ride to the airport. And even their belongings made the trek mostly unscathed; nothing more valuable than a laptop charger was lost in their 29 days on the road.

When she called us last week and we were able to spend some time hearing about some of the highlights of their adventures, it was obvious to us that this experience had matured her. How could it not?

Once they left Shanghai, Jennifer, Hannah and Austin were totally on their own. There weren’t any parents hovering at their computers booking flights, buses, and hostels in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. At each stop along the way, these three college kids had to come up with their itinerary (which they didn’t all immediately agree on) and figure out how they were going to get there – plus all the usual hassles that are even more challenging when you’re traveling internationally.

Things such as technology issues, language barriers, local currency, and behavior by other foreigners that seems bizarre to our sensibilities. Ones of her favorite examples was the leathery shirtless German guy who never left the room and the Japanese tourists eating chicken on the floor in their $3 a night hostel in Melaka.

Jennifer had the opportunity to make many new friends

Jennifer had the opportunity to make many new friends

Jennifer said that the first night they were there, she was thinking that this was the worst ever.  By the second night, she had embraced the experience, saw the humor in it, and wrote a silly poem “Ode to a Shirtless Man” to memorialize the moment. Now she relishes telling the story. And talk about learning appreciation. They felt like they were at the penthouse at the Hyatt when they got to their hostel in Pai, Thailand and there was a throw pillow on the bed and no cockroaches in the bathroom.

This kind of travel isn’t easy but I think it builds character and perspective. The attitude that “I’ll make the best of a bad situation and just get on with it” will serve her well throughout life – whether she’s 19 or 90, or in Shanghai or Sonoma. She’s a lucky girl.

Here’a link to more photos from her travels: https://www.facebook.com/jenny.rustad.3/media_set?set=a.1044680118923582.1073741836.100001448120759&type=3