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Outside the Comfort Zone of the United States

A trip to Japan was inspired by an amazing friend.
by Michelle Sutherlin Modified: July 2, 2014 at 9:19 am •  Published: July 2, 2014

I have this amazing friend who lives a life of adventure. Laura teaches special education language arts at the middle school where I am a counselor. While teaching is its own adventure, Laura's biggest adventures are traveling abroad in the summer.

Over the last few summers, Laura has applied and been awarded several teacher grants to travel across the world. She has been to the Middle East, Europe, South Africa and Thailand. For free. She has written amazing grant proposals to use her studies and experiences abroad in her classroom. Not only has she benefited from these travels but her students have been immeasurably enriched via her experiences.

Laura just left for Thailand again, but this time for an entire year. She is taking a sabbatical at school and is spending a year working with children in hopes of preventing human trafficking. Check out what Laura is doing at

I have gotten to know Laura very well during the last few years. At first, I admired her for her willingness to travel and learn about new cultures and people. Then, I admit that my admiration turned into envy. While I wouldn't trade my life as a mom to my amazing boys and wife to a wonderful husband, there is a part of me that always wondered what life would be like traveling the world.

I have traveled lots in the continental United States for business, pleasure or soccer. From Seattle to Miami and lots of places in between, I have really enjoyed experiencing new sights, sounds and people.

But, with the exception of a short day trip into Mexico during a Spring Break when I was in college, I have never had the guts to venture outside of the U.S. There are too many what ifs ... What if I can't understand the language? What if they serve me food that I don't like? What if the food I eat makes me sick? What if I get lost? What if something happens to me? What if I lose my passport? What if something goes wrong and I can't get help? What if I run out of money? What if, what if, what if?

Because of these anxieties and the lack of opportunity, I thought I would probably never get out of the U.S. But, watching Laura have these life-changing experiences really started to inspire me.

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by Michelle Sutherlin
NewsOK Contributor
Michelle Sutherlin is a middle school counselor in Norman, OK, who works with students ages 11-15 daily. She is also a mom to two boys, Ryan (12) and Will (9). She and her husband have been married for 16 years. She loves middle school students so...
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