Traveling should not just be getting away to relax under a tropical sun. It also can help define who you are. This is blog #1 of my soon-to-begin 7-month global adventure.
When do we become adults?
As my 4-year-old self entered my brother’s 2nd grade classroom, the only thing I could do was stare. There they were. Towering. Responsible. Infinitely intelligent. My brother and his classmates were reading, writing, and discussing topics with their teacher I only dreamed of comprehending.
Four years later, I started 2nd grade only to discover that I was still a little kid. Now the 6th graders were the mature ones. They swished the basketball into the hoop like NBA stars, sang and played instruments with real flair, and—thanks to my existence—earned plenty of cash babysitting.
Now at 20-years-old, I’m still debating what a grownup is. I no longer play the “guess how old I am” game because I’ve learned that over or under-estimating anyone’s age is as much a crime as calling them fat, hideous, or dim-witted.
But what if adulthood is not really about age?
Over the last couple years I’ve journeyed across North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, visiting 14 countries. I’ve traveled to 8 of them alone and lived in 2 for 2 months or longer. When I made my first major international trip, I was a little girl on the inside. Two years later, I dare say I am a woman. Traveling did that to me.
Right after graduating high school, I was selected to go to India for a food security-related internship. Since I passionately dreamed of making a difference, I was ecstatic about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As soon as I landed in India, reality kicked in. Not only was my check-in luggage misplaced, but once I reached my lodging I also could barely understand anyone’s accents. Worst of all, the wi-fi wasn’t working… and I couldn’t figure out how to call my parents to tell them I was okay!
I cried so hard that first night. How idiotic and naïve I felt for wanting to change the world when I couldn’t even solve my own problems! It was in that moment—that pitiable realization—that I began to grow up.
Traveling matured me not by making me a pessimist, but a realist. After witnessing such sweeping inequalities abroad, I want to change the world now more than ever, but to do that I first had to grasp how the world works. I needed experiences to learn, adapt, and discover the aspects of life I can and can’t change.
While abroad, I learned what it meant to be a woman, white, American, and all 3 at once. As a woman, I had to be confident but cautious and aggressive when necessary. As a white person, I had to understand privilege and acknowledge that some of my ancestors had deprived these people of their land and rights. As an American, I needed to recognize that what people saw in movies and the news was often how they viewed me: rich, carefree, and a Christian without morals. Ultimately, as a white American woman, I had to compare the luxuries I savored abroad with the injustices many native women endured, all because I held the right nationality and race cards.
Becoming a grown up overseas was not just about my own identity. It’s been every bit as much about relating to people, especially when they differ from me. I will always be a white American woman, but I argue that my best qualities came from experiences. After all, respect and empathy are learned.
Wearing sarees and drinking tea with Indian villagers. Learning survival Chinese phrases at Taiwan’s temples. Working around prayer schedules in Muslim Somali communities. It’s all been a matter of meeting people where they are and engaging with them despite and because of our differences.
I think one of the signs I’m growing up is that I’m noticing immature adults now. I’m saddened to see people who have become so rigid in their ways that they refuse to accept what is unfamiliar. Whether it’s hearing alternative viewpoints, exploring new places, or recovering from past events, they are stifling their own growth and have become the devil behind their own demise. But is it entirely their fault that they haven’t grown? Perhaps they need a good enough reason!
From June 2018 to January 2019, I’ll be highlighting my life in 10 African and Asian countries (with possible revisions), including:
3. South Africa
10. Myanmar (Burma)
I’m a college student so I will not only be studying abroad but also doing language immersion, research, and thankfully some vacation! Whether you think you have or haven’t grown up, dream of traveling, or are simply curious about what tales a 20-year-old college student can tell, I invite you to join me on 7 months of Fran’s Lands. It’s about time we grow up, together this time.