I have always traveled through soccer.

My weekends were spent traveling for tournaments — first to different parts of California, then, as I got older, to other parts of the nation and, eventually, the world.  

My first international trip was to Gothenburg, Sweden, for the Gothia Cup, a youth World Cup of sorts. We stayed in a hotel with teams from all over the world and I remember realizing just how much was out there that I had never seen.  

A young boy from London proposed to me and I briefly considered never returning home. Though I couldn’t understand many of the people I met or why anyone would want deli meat for breakfast, I understood that, although cultures vary, some languages are universal. Soccer. Compassion. Laughter.  

As I traveled more recreationally, I continued to add nuggets of wisdom and learning to this foundation. With each new experience, I not only learned more about others, but also about myself.  

My view of travel is similar to my view on food and dating. You have to try a lot of different things before you know what you really want. Whether it’s a positive or a negative experience, there is some amount of value added.  

Many people, like me, who grew up in California cannot fathom living anywhere else. But can you really say you would hate a proper winter if you haven’t lived through one? How can we know where we will flourish if we stay in our bubbles?

Travel has taught me what environments and cultures I want to live, vacation, raise a family, or never step foot in.  

Among some of the places I’ve been, the children of the Dominican Republic taught me to find joy in simple things and how to have unconditional love for others. The city of Berlin gave me an appreciation for art, history, and sparkling water (as well as a great wardrobe). Walking and driving through the streets and bazaars of Istanbul gave me the ability to find peace in chaos and, most recently, Samoa centered me by bringing me back to my roots and family.  

I’ve adopted bits and pieces of each of the places I’ve visited to refine my own behaviors, self-expression, and personality.

But the greatest gift travel has afforded me is perspective.  

In clinical psychology, we treat fear and anxiety through gradual exposure, among other things. So, in a way, travel is a type of therapy.  

I think many people fear the unknown and are content to remain in safe ignorance. Or maybe they simply had an unpleasant experience and now associate this foreignness with negative emotions.  

In our current social and political climate, it is exposure to those of different beliefs and lifestyles that brings understanding, empathy, and, eventually, acceptance.  

Travel puts a name and face to things previously abstract. It’s humanizing. I knew nothing of Islam until I heard the prayers echoing through the cities from the mosques, saw people praying throughout the day, and spoke to specific individuals about their experiences.  

Lean into change. Keep an open mind. Travel and grow.

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Mariah Meaalii Nogueira is half Samoan and half Brazilian, and was born in Huntington Beach, CA. She graduated from Stanford University in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in Psychology and is currently a professional soccer player in the National Women's Soccer League.

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