As I count down the days until I study abroad in a country I love, speak the Spanish language and live and learn about a new culture, of course I have fears. I booked my flights, calculated the days and realized – wow – I am going to be living in Seville, Spain for 105 days. Ay dios mio. That is a long time.
I have seen friends who were preparing to go abroad, stressing about being able to live in another country on their own, but I don’t seem to have those fears.
I was brought up in a house where I was lucky enough to travel frequently. Not that we always had the money for these big trips – especially being one of four kids – but my parents recognized the importance of traveling and learning about other cultures.
Most of the time we traveled with my mom’s brother and my three cousins. I will never forget the time when we were staying at a resort in Cancun, Mexico. But the all-inclusive life wasn’t what our parents wanted us to see. So we rented a minivan, squeezed in the car and drove three hours to a place called Chichén Itzá, a city built by the Mayans with incredible pyramids. On the way there my parents wouldn’t let us sleep because they wanted us to see what we were driving through. Instead of sleeping, we studied the long roads we traveled, looked out the tinted windows at the simple lives people were living. We realized not only how lucky we were, but how happy the people did seem, just living each day to live, in their small huts on the side of the dirt roads. It opened my eyes to a different culture, made me think of a different way of life.
We did that often – went on “excursions” from the places we stayed and learned a little about the people and the culture.
I grew up speaking some Spanish with my Mom who is Cuban and grandparents when we went on trips where the natives spoke Spanish. For us, English wasn’t even an option. (The tour of Chichén Itzá – they had ones in English, but my uncle thought we would learn more if we got the tour in Spanish.)
As I got older, I began going on trips on my own. Flying a few times to Washington D.C. and then a big trip on my own to France where I studied with others my age about World War II. I spoke no French, but having traveled so much with my family I knew how the metro worked, how to avoid the beggars and essentially how to take in as much culture and learning as much as I could. I had fears of course – but in my head I knew what I was doing and how to travel, so that calmed my nerves. I remember whenever we split up to get lunch or free time, everyone always wanted to come with me; mostly because I knew what I was doing.
Being well-traversed gives me a gift not all people are lucky enough to have – but more people should aim to be.
Being able to hop on a plane and go anywhere on a whim. That makes life more exciting.
So before you jump to book a plane ticket or get in your car and go on a road trip, I will leave you with this quote from Saint Augustine.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”