News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Living abroad gives new perspective to Sisters grad

Parker Bennett knows growing up in Sisters was full of opportunities and blessings. He also realized it would do him good to live in other cultures and get a fresh perspective on his place in the world.

Bennett graduated from Sisters High School in 2010. He took up running in middle school and continued competing in high school. “Sisters High School had really good, competitive sports teams. About 80 percent of students were part of the sport culture,” he said. “That small-town support was good for gaining confidence.”

Starting college at Willamette University, Bennett had an epiphany many students from smaller communities have.

“It was a shock going from being a big fish in a small pond to a tiny fish in a medium size pond,” he said. “That’s when I realized the world beyond Sisters was a lot more competitive and intense.”

Bennett ran in college for Willamette University’s track-and-field and cross-country teams. He was an All-American at Nationals and won at conference a couple of times. After graduating in 2014, he wanted to continue running. He looked at competing internationally and joined some races in Thailand.

“It got a bit frustrating with the international competition. I remember one race with prize money making competition a lot more intense. When seven Kenyans signed up for the race, I got eighth place,” he said. “They ran times that were above my pain threshold.”

Thailand was the first place Bennett landed after graduating. He taught English for a year in Thailand and liked being paid while living abroad. Then he was an au pair in Italy for three months. After he finished his au pair job, he bought a bicycle and toured around Europe for several months.

After his bike trip, he ended up in Berlin, where he stayed with a couch-surfing host who was a professor. His host encouraged Bennett to look into the sports science program at his university. But Bennett told him he wanted to do more touring around Europe. Then, two weeks later, Bennett ran into Sisters High School, classmate Kevin Marquardt, who was living in Munich.

“Kevin told me when he wanted to be a student in Berlin but all the programs were in German. He encouraged me to do the sports science master’s program because it was being taught in English,” Bennett recalled.

After finishing up another cycling tour, Bennett flew back to the U.S. and decided to apply. He was accepted into the program in 2016. Since receiving his master’s, he’s spent the past three years working as a personal trainer and fitness instructor in Berlin.

We caught up with Bennett in Portland after taking some time to visit friends and family in Central Oregon. The final part of his visit home was disrupted after his passport was stolen in Portland. That meant he had to go to Seattle to get his passport renewed before his return flight on July 23, to Berlin.

Traveling abroad has been full of epic experiences while cycling, scuba diving, and rock climbing.

“I like living in Europe because it’s so easy to travel. There are cheap plane and train tickets to get around. Everyone values travel so much more there than in the U.S., so it keeps the prices more reasonable,” he said. “I can go for the weekend to Greece, and there’s great climbing in Europe and many beautiful scuba diving places.”

For Bennett, living in Berlin isn’t his choice for raising a family, but for now it’s a great place to push himself career-wise while seeing regions like Northern Africa, the Middle East, and southern Europe.

“I’m doing it now because I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to travel there later in life,” he said.

Bennett said learning German was challenging.

“I didn’t speak German at all before moving there. I picked it up speaking to people and learned German street language first. I wish I’d learned more about the grammar in classes; it’s hard to explain things well without that,” he said.

To really learn about a new culture, Bennett suggests living there long-term versus just visiting as a tourist.

“Overall, Germany wasn’t that much of a culture shock. If you’re coming from the U.S., at first it seems different. But after living here, it’s quite similar. I look German, so that helped with my adaptability,” he said.

Finding a balance between work and play has proven valuable.

“Traveling can get expensive so it’s nice having a job I could come back to or do while traveling,” he said.

Living in Europe during the pandemic had challenges and opportunities. During last year’s partial lockdown, it was a good time to not be in Europe.

“I went to Egypt for three months and worked online as a nutrition advisor. Sadly, I did get Corona in Egypt,” he said. “Egypt was full of scuba diving and rock climbing. It’s a real glorious place to be for outdoor activities. Most of the travelers were coming from Europe.”

Bennett was on the Sinai Peninsula, in a rural area along the Red Sea and an hour south of Israel.

“Culturally it was very different, with a lot of laws I don’t agree with, but Egypt makes a lot of money from tourists, so they don’t want to affect tourism much. They sell alcohol and women can wear bikinis, to accommodate the tourists. But they still oppress their people,” he said.

After living abroad, Bennett knows growing up in Sisters can leave kids naïve about the rest of the world.

“It’s not a diverse town but has a lot of educational opportunities for a small town,” he said. “To see the world from another perspective, I highly recommend getting out of Oregon or the U.S. as quickly as possible. It’s good to have a taste of what it’s like beyond Sisters and learn how easy it is to keep traveling once you start. There’s a lot of cheap ways to travel. Teaching English is a good one, and there’s other ways like farming or woofing. There are options that don’t require a lot of money once you’ve bought your plane tickets. I don’t think finances should be the main reason why people don’t travel.”

Bennett encourages young people to push past the fear of the unknown and travel.

“It allows you to see our country in a different way. Oregon is an incredible state, and it’s easy to think it’s the best place. We’re lucky to be born here, but living in other cultures is important to see what it’s like without constant support from friends and family. It’s good to see how other governments work too.”

Bennett’s five-year plan includes moving back to Oregon. He wants to be closer to family and the people he loves. But for now, what’s ahead is unwritten and he’s planning to make the most of his time living abroad.

 

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