Today I am in New York City attending the prestigious Travel Blogger Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship — a sequel to the acclaimed White House event held in 2014. Co-hosted by Hostelling International USA (HI USA) and Partners of the Americas, this event touches on my personal passion for the transformative power of travel, and the belief that travel is and should be for everyone. The goal the conference is to inspire a new generation to study abroad and experience the transformational power of travel. I have been asked to share my own personal story and here it is. Feel free to follow the summit online and read other stories using the hashtag #studyabroadbecause.
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin
The first time I ever left the country was at the tender age of six. I was tiny, timid and loved playing with my dolls. My family rented a station wagon and we drove south of the border of Texas, along the coast and then west into the mountainous, tropical mystery of Cuidad Valles, Mexico. On the drive, we passed people living in deplorable conditions; in homes of hand-made shacks and tarps alongside the road. I stared out the window at this strange landscape, wide-eyed with wonder.
When we arrived at our hotel, we were surrounded by the local children who came to meet the new guests. There I stood, painfully shy and in pig-tails while the children danced around me shouting, “Niña rubia, niña rubia… Quiero tocar tu cabello” (Blond girl, blond girl, I want to touch your hair). They were fascinated by my shiny white blond hair, blue eyes and nordic pale skin. They had never seen it before. This was the mid-70s a time when not many foreigners came to visit a small town in the middle of Mexico. I was equally spellbound by them. Their dark black hair, sparkling brown eyes and skin. The playful rapid-fire Spanish coming out of their mouths. It was a moment in time I will never forget, and began my life long love of travel and culture.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain
The first time I went overseas, I was 13 years old. Young, awkward, impressionable and ready to find my place in the world. I had the experience of years of family travel back home under my belt. Yet going to Europe for the first time was a new kind of adventure. It was 1984 and none of my friends had ever been to Europe. It felt exotic. I was filled with a rush of anticipation of what I would discover.
The moment I road up the escalator from the Paris metro and stepped out onto the streets to see the awe and wonder of Paris for the very first time, I was mesmerized. Paris blew me away. I made my decision right then and there, looking down the magnificent Champs-Élysées, that I would someday live in Paris and spend a semester studying abroad there. I returned home, enrolled in my first french class and continued to study french in college to prepare me for the day I’d live in France. My junior year of college, I applied to a study abroad program in Paris at the Sorbonne and was accepted. My dream had come true.