So far, I've made it to the Toronto airport -- halfway to my journey to Madrid. With a 7-hour long layover, I've finally decided now is the time to write, to explain why I've chosen to spend the next 10 months living and working in Spain.
There is something about being stranded in an airport for hours on end that makes you see people with ridiculous clarity. I wait tables everyday for a living back home in Nashville, a popular tourist destination that attracts travelers from all over the world, and yet the comfortability of home often blinds me to the differences that constantly surround me. But here, I see and hear everything. Language, color, inflection of tone, various styles of dress; from sandals and socks to platform wedges, and balding Afghani men to wailing Indian toddlers. You cannot escape diversity in an airport even if you try, it literally engulfs you. And the craziest part is that I haven't even gotten to the real culture shock yet and I still feel unnerved and out of place.
So why am I doing this?
This is the question I've been asking myself repeatedly for the past 24 hours as I sit in my uncertainty and loneliness and doubt. And although I feel all of these emotions and more, I know that I am on this journey for a reason.
For one, I am so excited to be immersed in the Spanish culture and language. I really want to push myself to have authentic conversations with people. Not just speaking simple phrases like "Donde esta bano?" and "Como te llamas?" but to speak fluently enough that I can go back home one day and tell the Hispanic server assistant at BarTaco how much I respected and adored working with her for almost a year. I want to go up to the parents of my inner-city latina kids and tell them how much progress their kids made in the REACH reading program and how talented and fantastic they are.
I also want to teach. Simultaneously, I want to be taught. Not just how to speak a foreign language, but how to navigate new landscapes and truly open myself up to people I don't know. At 25 years of age, I want to start taking responsibility for my adulthood, beginning a career path in education and learning to how to live well completely on my own.
But, more than any of these things, I want to address that blindness that I spoke of earlier. That familiarity that we all face in our day to day life. I want to really see people, and to learn their stories. I want to know what inspires them and drives them to wake up every morning. How do they take their coffee? What is their relationship like with their family? What weighs on their mind when they go to sleep at night?
This, I believe, is the ultimate reason I travel. Stories are the road map that connect us all together. Sharing them helps us to understand pain, and betrayal, and love, and life. It makes the Spanish man in the Metro station, and the CIEE participant from L.A., and this elderly woman sitting next to me waiting to hop a plane to Madrid all my brother and sister in this chaos we call life.
I hope to keep this in mind as I embark on this new journey. To remind myself at the end of the day that people are all, ultimately, just people. To try my best to teach, and to learn, and to be open to each and every story that I will be told and will eventually tell myself.
To embrace each new experience that comes my way,
and to always keep my eyes open.
And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely of places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it. -- Roald Dahl