New Places, New Me
Before: It is January 16th, 2016. I am gripping my mom’s hand so hard that her fingertips
turn white. Tears are streaming down my face, my butt is firmly planted on the
seat just outside of the security line. Thoughts are beating through my mind, a
lot of “What the hell am I thinking?” and a little bit of “You’re an idiot.” I
keep checking the time on my phone, anxious to not miss the flight that I keep
saying I am not going on. I turn towards my mom, who mirrors my movement, a
look on her face says “It’s time.” An uncontrollable amount of tears
roll down my checks and onto my lap. By the time I get to the line, I am crying
so hard that the security officer asks me if I am okay.
I’m not ready to go.
After: It is May 6th, 2016. I am looking down at a blur of lights from the town I’ve
come to find some of the most generous people and most importantly, myself. The
window is clad with teardrops from the sky as I look out to watch neighboring
planes leave the runway t. As my eyes continue to glaze over with tears,
memories flood through my mind. I am reminded of all the exploring, the awkward
cab rides, times lost in the middle of nowhere, and quirky markets. “I don’t
want to go home.” I think to myself. “I don’t want to leave.” I wipe a tear off
my cheek and do my best to hold in my sobs as the plane begins to move.
I’m not ready to go.
Why was I so scared? I was about to travel 4,000 miles away from
everything I call home, a 2-hour time difference standing in between my comfort
zone and me. The worst part of it all was I was going alone. The only company I
had was my suitcase, carry on and an unsettled stomach. The hardest part of
going away was the barriers. Most were cultural, but the biggest was language.
I’ve grown up
speaking a Spanish English hybrid easily flowing between the two languages.
Like so many other “Americas” I grew up in a mixed house hold where I knew
English and Spanish, but upon entering school, it quickly became evident I was
not proficient in either. I figured that going abroad in a Spanish speaking
country would be easy. I was so very wrong. I can barely speak and often time I
couldn’t remember the words for the life of me. I would speak as I spoke at
home. I jumbled mixed of both languages. This got me absolutely nowhere in a
country where English is scare. I could not read or write. At 20 I found myself
illiterate in a forging country armed with nothing but half Spanish and a
faulty google translate.
It was an experience
to say the least. One night after a concert in the main plaza, my friends and I
attempted to navigate our way back to our little barrio. As we boarded the city
bus, we got weird glances and side eyes. Not uncommon for a bunch of gringos
boarding a train. We road on for what felt like hours. Finally, we got off a
mere 15 minutes down the road and realized be has stumbled into the Peruvian
shanty towns. This was the one place we were told not to go since the pop up
villages have no sense of government and are often marked with poverty and in
turn crime. Since I had the most experience with Spanish, I attempted to ask
for directions. Unlike my American friends apart of the same program, many
natives of Peru assumed I was Peruvian and began rapidly rattling off
directions. I was so over whelmed. Feelings of doubt and fear set into my
Looking back on
this moment in time, it is easy to see how much of an impact literacy can come
to have on your life. Imagine if just one person in the group had the language
skills to get accurate directions. If one of us could read written directions
or write our address. Writing and reading would have been such an easy solution
to such a scary problem. Eventually we wandered back to the plaza and splurged for
a cab to arrive safely home a couple of hours later than planned.
I have never felt
more helpless. It was like my voice had been silenced. I had no words no means
to communicate, no way to understand, and no way to comprehend. I had never
realized what a tool communication and writing could be.
As I looked out the window,
seeing planes taxi their way down the runway, I could not help but imagine that
moment being my last in Cusco. That I would never be able to casually walk past
ancient Inca stones and buildings. That hearing and practicing Spanish all day,
every day would no longer be the norm.
When people ask me how it
was, the first thing I say is, “I’d do it again.” And I would. I was
so skeptical going into this experience: Would I make friends? Would I be able
to travel? How would I adjust? Would I fit in? It was a whirlwind of emotions
that sent me to Peru, and ultimately, transformed me into an independent young
woman who was able to handle all of the traveling, meeting new people, making
decisions, navigating – and my personal favorite accomplishment, not crying
once of being homesick during my time abroad.
No matter how indecisive,
dependent, anxious, scared, and/or doubtful you are, remember I felt all of
those emotions and then some, and those four months will always be reminisced
as the best of my life.