To say that I’ve been a privileged 19 year old teenager is quite an understatement. In 2014 alone, I’d gotten to explore six countries on three continents, as well as four U.S. cities on opposite corners of the country to meet seven international friends and pen pals of mine in person.
I was fortunate enough to have a parent (my dad) who was employed by the biggest airline at the biggest and busiest airport worldwide. Thus, as a perk of my dad’s job, we were able to fly to all Delta destinations for either no cost or for a significantly cheaper fare.
Throughout my whole life, my family and I would travel once or twice a year to a state within the United States – never outside of it. However, after my high school graduation in 2014, my dad and I were fortunate enough to finally make a switch and explore some of the outside world and its unforeseen treasures. A few of my most memorable experiences are briefly shared below.
While en route back to America from meeting and staying with a girl in France, my dad and I stopped in and spent a couple of days in the cities of Brussels and Antwerp in Belgium. I’d gotten to indulge in waffles, fries, chocolate, and medieval architecture with Phoebe, my Belgian pen pal of almost seven years now, have a few laughs at the Antwerp train station and pose for hilarious pictures with Stef, my other Belgian pen pal of two years, and visit my second-cousin Olivia, who had lived there at the time for a yearlong internship in Brussels.
My dad and I set foot on Copacabana and climbed the Brazilian soil of Pão de Açúcar, one of Rio de Janeiro’s beloved mountains, as well as battled English-Portuguese language barriers with natives, soaked up the refreshing mist from the waters of the TV Tower Fountain and the JK Bridge in Brasilia, and sampled the most authentic Brazilian coffee and cafes on a sunny summer day with our Portuguese-speaking friend, Morgana.
Though not easily but successfully, my dad and I traveled on four planes through three different European countries just to set foot in Prague, Czech Republic three days before Christmas.
As a result I’d gotten to share a Christmas kiss with Luke, my two-year long Czech pen pal and crush, after he took me to see castles, chateaus, the Prague Mall, and a beautifully lit Christmas market under the stars in Prague’s Old Town Square. In addition, I’d gotten to meet Maty, another Czech pen pal, who welcomed my dad and me at our hotel with chocolates, wafers, a Prague calendar, and the most passionate hugs and greetings on our second and last day in Prague.
As one would imagine from these experiences, everything in life couldn’t have been more perfect for me. And it really couldn’t have.
Of course though, fairy tales don’t and can’t last forever. And that’s exactly what we witnessed after the New Year took its course and crazy circumstances germinated out of thin air.
I never knew how fast time would flash before my eyes, or how hard my world would come crashing down. After a series of unfortunate, untimely events, my dad lost his job with Delta Air Lines after having spent eighteen years there. Thus, at nearly 49 years old, my dad had no choice but to start over in life again.
We no longer had viable health insurance, nor did we have a consistent flow of income for the family. At one point, there had been a possibility that he would have had to move to New York City to become an editor for a writing company there if he couldn’t find another job that he wanted in Georgia. I’d come to the realization in that moment in time that I may never get to meet or see some of my dearest international friends ever again, because a single plane ticket to Europe is often and easily over $2,000.
Even more so, I instantly thought about Luke. I thought about how I’d probably never get a second chance to share such sweet memories as I had with him in Prague. How he’d move on with his own life, his own job, his own relationships, and how he’d no longer feel any sort of mutual feeling for me. How there was nothing I could do to prevent it from happening because we simply live on two different continents and are divided by 5,000 miles of ocean and land from each other.
It was dreadful for me to imagine reality because I’d never before met a guy who, despite my flaws, made me feel loved, beautiful, and amazing about myself. He never realized it, but he meant and still means so very much to me. At the time, dealing with the stress and spontaneous changes in my life entailed were overwhelming, and I wasn’t ready for any of them to settle in. There wasn’t a day that went by in which I didn’t shed rivers of tears, feel the stabbing emotional pain in my heart and the pit of my stomach, or feel like my life had spontaneously started going down an inevitable drain.
My parents had finalized their divorce the year before, and that often made trips home less cohesive. My college grades were only mediocre, and not what they had been in high school. I didn’t know whether or not I wanted to change my international business and marketing co-major to another major that I thought I could do or get better grades in, or whether or not I wanted to change it because I couldn’t live up to academic expectations of extended family members.
The majority of the friends that I’d had just the previous semester had slowly drifted into unfamiliar faces during the second. Thus, the number of people who I’d confided in for friendship had dwindled.
I’d spent my two freshman year semesters sleeping late at night in a dorm room with a stranger who I once considered my friend, and with whom I never imagined that I wouldn’t have at least gotten along well with as just friends or even acquaintances. No one can ever endure the pain of living somewhere he or she feels that he or she doesn’t truly belong, or doesn’t feel welcome.
In turn, I’d let my awkward relationship with my roommate affect my relationship with everyone else on my hall. Now, I look back and regret not becoming closer with others because of my irrational fear of my roommate making me feel completely ignored and worthless in front of people at hall programs and events. I didn’t even know where or with whom I would be living for the next school year, because I didn’t feel like I’d made enough close friends in general to make a decision like that.
Everyone always went about their own lives, their own problems, and just themselves in general. I really did feel anonymous and insignificant in what was supposed to be amazingly charming and charismatic place.
Traveling to other places always served as a way for me to escape from personal struggles like these for a while, and for me to enjoy the happier, livelier side of life that’s out waiting to be explored in the world. It gave me access to real-life dreams that always bridged the lonely gaps in my life, and to unthinkable opportunities that I knew other people couldn’t have easily or magically attained.
Needless to say, life is not perfect. I suppose that people who are only cognizant of the first half of my dish would gain the impression that I have never experienced anything worse than “the greener grass from the other side.”
But of course, that’s not true. Sometimes, we simply don’t recognize the internal challenges and neediness that a person battles with because we have grown accustomed to hiding them with our other accomplishments. Or, perhaps, we’d rather pass strangers by on the streets every day with a simple smile rather than with our problems.
It’s crazy to imagine how the things that we don’t think could ever happen to us find a way to become our reality. Some blessings we are given are short-lived, and it is important to be grateful perhaps for what we had, and not for what we no longer have.
While I have experienced a few bumps in the road here and there, nothing ever goes without a meaning. I’m a firm believer in that everything in this world happens for a reason. As a result of my dad and me not traveling this summer, I made the decision for myself to find not one, but two of my very first part-time jobs. Instead of spending my college spring break in Budapest, Hungary with my dad as originally planned, I instead spent it at my house in Newnan, Georgia and did intense job hunting on the internet.
Now, I am working as a waitress at IHOP and as a cashier at Zaxby’s – both places in which are located close to my hometown of Newnan. Had my dad not lost his job, I probably would have gone another summer without the incentive to take advantage of the opportunities to pad my resume with early work experience that will greatly benefit me and my skills for future employment.
My desire to continue traveling hasn’t disappeared as a result of this, of course. In spring of this year, I decided that with my two part-time summer jobs, as well as one part-time job during the fall 2015 semester, I want to save up my own money for something personal, rewarding, and worthwhile in my life.
Currently, my goal is to save approximately $1500 to meet, stay, and spend the first week of January 2016 with an international friend of mine who lives Moscow, Russia.
I have never had to truly work or save up money for anything before in my life, but I am now learning the value of doing it since I know that it is the only way I can continue to do what I love most. If Neil Armstrong could set foot on the moon, then I believe that I certainly have the motivation and power to continue my adventures and savor the value and appreciation of hard work in the process.
At the end of the day, the moral of the story to take home to mom is this: the world is our oyster. It truly is. Our imaginations and dreams have no limitations.
If you are given an opportunity to make an international friend or pen pal in another country, I would highly recommend that you do it. After all, the internet does wonders beyond our comprehension. If you are just about to start college, go in with an open mind and expect everything and anything to happen.
Don’t go in with overly high expectations as I did, but don’t go in with a negative mindset either. Set goals for yourself, your academic career, and your social life, and stick with each one. Get to know different people, build strong relationships with them, and make the people the farthest away in distance as close to your heart as you can.
I know that these are among the most worldly, beautiful things that I have discovered during my nearly 20 years of being alive on this planet. And that, certainly, is something that no one will ever be able to take away from me.