Preface: I want to start by saying that this post has many accomplishments listed within it, but I do not want it to come off as a ‘slap-in-the-face’ type post saying ‘I’ve done this and this and this’ but rather a link to help emphasize the message. I have indeed been very fortunate to do some of the things I’ve done, but it’s only because I have made stringent efforts to do them with a great support network behind me. I believe everybody could do what I’ve done, and oftentimes do even better, but they simply choose not to because they are accomplishing their own goals and ambitions. Please understand the context.
Why is it that I do what I do? That I read what I read? That I study what I study? That I believe what I believe?
It’s because I am moved by people, diverse people, and seeing them succeed or struggle with pride. It’s because I’ve chosen to go places that many people wouldn’t normally choose to. It’s because I not only travel, but seek out real life, going beyond the facade of culture of which many tourist are trapped in. It’s because I have faith in the power of human beings, and I don’t feel defeated by seeming ‘unimaginable' realities.
My first time to ever travel abroad solo was during a trip to Europe. You see, traveling to Europe was one of the best things I ever did. It’s cliche. I know. I was alone, but I was going to school so I knew there would be structure. I really wasn’t too nervous because it was in London, not exactly a place known for it’s hardship. It was great, and I had a great time in the school there, speaking with people from various cultures, getting mocked by the ‘proper’ English speakers because of my ‘American’ and slightly ‘Southern’ accent. I had fun in the pubs, drinking pints and watching the World Cup matches in electric environments. It was a new world, but it wasn’t a crazy culture-shock type difference. I was just in a new place with new people, like visiting New England. Still, as similar and comfortable as it may have been, it slightly changed me. I took off after my time in London and traveled around some of Western Europe. Notice, I say Western Europe. This is still one of the biggest players in the World’s economy. There are differences, but there isn’t deprivation on a massive scale. But still, the place was different by some standard, and it slightly changed me.
You see, traveling to Europe was one of the best things I ever did. It’s cliche. Cool and woop-te-do. But honestly, it’s what altered my path just a bit. It’s what tweaked me ever so slightly to bring me to where I am today, and I honestly believe this was the starting point. The thing is that Western Europe isn’t so different from the United States, but it is different. It has history the United States can’t hang a stick to. It has these strong cultural values in-between borders that we in the United States don’t exactly understand, because Spain is not to Germany as Texas is to Tennessee. There are significant differences within small spaces, and this creates a unique environment. What I learned in Europe is that the world is full of differences, but they are to be valued and loved. People are people, and as I’ve always said in any of my stories about experiences and memories abroad, the people I meet are what make the journeys what they are. I remember the people more than anything.
You see, traveling to Europe was one of the best things I ever did. It’s cliche. Nice. But honestly, it’s what generated the inclination to see more of the world. It was the building block that set me off on some pretty incredible adventures. I have been to some pretty cool places, such as the middle of the largest delta in the world, a quaint surfing village on the coast of South Africa, the ancient Roman Colosseum, to some ancient ruins built by the Quechua (also known as Machu Picchu), to the highest elevated lake in the world, to the Amazon rain forest, to Krueger Park in South Africa, to the three big waterfalls of the world in Zambia, Argentina, and the USA, and to the depths of one of the driest places on earth. I’ve been able to jump off cliffs into pools resembling an oasis in majestic mountains, I’ve been able to sand board down dunes that felt miles high, I’ve been able to ride horseback through sacred valleys, I’ve been able to walk on floating islands built of reeds, I’ve been able to look a great white shark in the eyes and feel it’s strength, I’ve been able to jump off the highest commercial bungee in the world, I’ve been able to stare down a hippopotamus in the wild, I've been able to repel down waterfalls, I’ve been able to swim in a lake with anacondas, and I’ve been able to run from the likes of baboons. But I want to reemphasize still, I remember the people more than anything.
You see, traveling to Europe was one of the best things I ever did because it inspired me to seek out more than what I knew as life. It inspired me to dig deeper and to stretch the bounds of my comfort zone, and to take what some may consider ‘risks,’ but it was all in good faith that I was living with intention. You see, doing all of these ‘incredible’ things I’ve mentioned doesn’t match up with taking a kid to his first futbol match in a national stadium under the lights, or seeing a kid come back day after day voluntarily to listen to your teachings, then to see them light up with accomplishment, or walking a kid through his dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhood at midnight just to be sure he is safe and able to go to school in the morning, then to see the distress disappear and gratitude overcome his face as he looks back at you when he slides past his front door, or having to listen to a kid spill his emotions during his having to say goodbye for the last time because you’ll be gone for a long time, potentially forever. If you haven’t caught on, these experiences are hard to beat - and I’m only scratching the surface. I remember the people more than anything.
You see, I believe what I believe and I study what I study because I have hope for this world. I thrive on laughter, smiles, times of embrace, and expressions of joy. I believe in a better world, and I know that this puzzle or game isn’t easy, but I sure can try my hand at helping us advance to the next level. I could be ridiculed for my optimism and lack of ‘big picture’ and ‘realistic’ solutions or whatever, and so be it - I don’t care. I could be told that I care too much about the kid and not enough about the adult, and to that I say think what you will. I care about the next person, but when it comes down to it I care about the next person because I picture a kid, be it that persons kid, that person as a kid, or really any kid. I see innocence that isn’t spoiled. I see a future filled with hope. I see opportunity. I see the next generation - and the hope for many more to come. You see, if ever I become ill-tempered, frustrated, lost, or lose track of my intentions, I remember the people more than anything.