I had an assignment for my graduate class where I had to write about an experience that changed my worldview. This is what I came up with…
Portuguese for travel my experience has become a lifestyle. I grew up in the remenets of a steel mill town, one that attracted blue collar workers and immigrants from all over the US only to leave nothing but the scent of sulfur for the next generation. We call ourselves “The International City” but in reality the majority of our population is Black and Latino. Intermixed within the city are the children and grandchildren of the working class Euro-immigrants whose lost sense of community and identity displays itself in the ramshackle buildings of what used to be the Polish-American Club or the Slovak Club.
In my high school I started with over 700 fellow classmates. Only 268 of us made it all the way to the end. Those of us who made it to college often didn’t make it past their first year before returning for one reason or another. Those who “made it out” only ended up moving thirty minutes west to Cleveland. So for me, in my final semester of college, to be given the opportunity to complete my student teaching in Rio de Janeiro, I was truly an oddity.
My international travel experiences before Brazil was visiting border towns in Canada and Mexico, which at the time seemed so far removed from what any of my friends back home had experienced. Yet, this time I was moving to a place where not only did I not know the language but I didn’t have anyone traveling with me that I knew or could depend on. This was something scary yet exciting at the same time.
I was lost, out of place, getting ready to teach my very own first class and yet I was at home – comfortable. I could blended in as long as I kept my mouth shut, which is more than could be said for my three blond fellow student teachers. Due to my limited high school class Spanish abilities, I was able to communicate and was often designated as the talker when our group got lost, even though everyone else was an experienced traveler. My cooperating teacher lost her father and therefore was required to take seven school days off, throwing me into the classroom a week earlier with no one to observe me. Yet, either through my student’s fear of my strict cooperating teacher or my own personal confidence I fit in and had fun each class. I finally felt like I could call myself a teacher.
While overseas I made lifelong friends, hang-glided over skycrapers, partied in shanty towns called “favelahs”, danced Samba with beautiful strangers, and was robbed by gunpoint twenty paces out of view from police officers. While teaching I wrote up my first student, became disheartened when I failed a disinterested student, and was challenged on topics that were so off topic but somehow was prepared and knew the answer. I found myself while traveling with conversations and experiences from people older and younger then myself, strangers and friends, men and women, gay and straight. Yet ultimately I found myself by being forced to be alone in a city of eleven million.
I was bitten by the travel bug and had to find a way to continue the adventure. Though, like all things do my adventure came to an end. My student teaching experience concluded and I flew back to Ohio. I had interviewed for teaching opportunities in Japan but was denied or given a job only to later be told I was on a wait list for a visa. While assuredly waiting for my next opportunity I fell in love, started a wonderful job and began graduate school. Yet traveling was never far from my heart.
I traveled with my then girlfriend to her home of Lima, Peru and got a taste of travel once more. A year later, thanks to an error with the airlines, we were able to travel to Tokyo, Japan where we stayed with her sister. It was there, atop a ferris wheel in Tokyo that I proposed to my wife. It was there that we decided our path, our aspirations, our lifestyle- viajar (to travel).
Traveling as a lifestyle is a lot different than traveling as a vacation. We were planning on throwing everything to the wind for an opportunity to travel and explore for months. We saved money every way that we could find and slowly built up plans and resources for our adventure. We built contingency plans for once our adventure ended that would allow us to continue our next adventure somewhere else. We gave up things for the opportunity of an experience and postponed the typical married life for one filled adventure, experiences and unknown risks.
Today, we are still plotting and planning our adventure. Counting down the days and purchasing things with a new mentality, “Can I take this with me and if not is it worth buying if we will only use it for a few months?” We have reduced our possessions to fit in one large backpack. Large it may be, we cannot fit a full weeks worth of clothes. Confined to what we can carry, and what the airlines will allow us to travel with, we have become minimalist – we have become travelers. Somewhere along the lines the transition was made from travelling to being a traveler and like I was so many years ago as I waited in anticipation for Brazil, I await once again. Only this time Brazil will be our second stop and with no immediate plan to return to the US.
If I never went to Brazil, I can mostly definitely say I would not be the same person I am today. The experiences have made me who I am and I look forward to what our future experience will make out of us. An experience has become a lifestyle to live for the experience and not simply live for what is available, known and safe. For some, it is an adventure to far off lands and others it is stepping out of your comfort zone. Either way your journey only takes you as far as you are willing to go.
What experience has changed your worldview?