On the scarce occasions I let myself ponder what would come next after college, I usually contented myself with the simple idea that I would travel. The question of where was not important for a while but in the last three years or so my wanderlust coalesced on two large regions: Australia and New Zealand or Central and South America. Not so focused but a start. Only until after my last collegiate soccer season at the University of Mary Washington did I begin to get slightly more specific. I will go to Australia and New Zealand someday, but both getting there and traveling once there, is considerably more expensive than simply heading south in the Americas. I don't think I needed my economics degree to figure that out but perhaps it helped.
Another thing that helped was the fact that I now had a traveling companion. A very smart, very beautiful woman named Amy who is better than me at just about everything, including Spanish and planning. We had the great fortune of meeting in Jamaica and many things seemed to work out just right so that we could be together and plan this trip.
When you finish college you are supposed to enter the job market: pay off student loans, earn a salary, and begin reaping the returns of your investment in education. I am lucky that I attended a relatively inexpensive university, received scholarships, had parents that valued my education, had a great summer job, and did not have to take out loans to pay my way. Many students have no other option, and many more simply don't know of any other option after graduating, then taking their crisp diploma and marketing themselves to the professional world. Someday I want to work in resource economics, or maybe a sustainable energy or design industry but right now I am trying to take advantage of this very free and open portion of my life. American kids have a clear path delineated for them from an early age: go to school, get into college, get a degree. Then you are an adult and you must figure out how to clothe, shelter, and feed yourself, ideally using the education you spent most of your life obtaining. It is a little frightening to near the end of your undergraduate education and watch the 'real world' come into focus, but its also very exciting. For really the first time in your life there is no road to follow. Your ties to family, friends, places, and obligations may be the fewest you will ever have. So instead of seeking to root myself to a job, company, career, apartment, I have gone home. I am very grateful that I can earn a good hourly wage at home in the family business while doing work that I enjoy. Landscaping, stonework, and forestry encompass most of what I do but the variety of jobs and projects is one of my favorite parts about the work. Working outside is wonderful and ensures a healthy connection and appreciation for the weather and seasons. I greatly value the opportunity to problem solve and figure out ways to make things both practically functional and aesthetically beautiful. Doing such work largely independently and creatively with my mind, body, and hands I find extremely satisfying. I do want to explore the wider world of career options, and hopefully find ways to engage more of my intellect, but for the past eight months I have been entirely busy and content with saving money and planning this trip with Amy.
When explaining to people what I plan to do this winter I have been surprised at how excited the reactions are and how encouraging family friends, peers, and community members have been. Why don't more people do something of this sort if so many think it is such a good idea. The biggest reactions seem to have come from middle aged people who perhaps never had the chance to travel when they were young or did travel and had great experiences. I suppose the thing that has perplexed me the most is the disconnect between the general sentiment I have received about traveling and the lack of encouragement there is for people my age to gain such experiences. It seems like no one will tell you to go somewhere else, see how other people live, and perhaps gain more insight into what you may want to do with your life, until you tell them you are planning something of the sort. Then they will gush with "now is the time to do it!", "good for you, that sounds great!", or "I wish I had done that at your age". I am not suggesting that all college graduates should go to another continent to get some more perspective but I do think many more would benefit from it than actually do consider it. Everyone understands and interprets the world around them through the lens of their own experiences, beliefs, and overarching culture they were raised in. Individually this creates bubbles of comfort and understanding around people who feel secure and justified of their life within. Some peoples bubbles are large and relatively transparent so that they are able to glimpse other ways of life, while many are small and tinted so only similar bubbles can be seen. It seems to me that one of the easiest ways to broaden your own bubble is to leave the environment where it formed and find other expressions of life. There are countless ways that humans live, determined by some combination of choice, constraints, incentives, environment, and a myriad of other factors. I hope that by experiencing others I may discover how to better live my own life, as one human among billions.
I have been to Belize on a family vacation when I was 8, Honduras as a member of the microfinance organization La Ceiba in January 2011, and Jamaica in February 2010, not to mention a few trips to Canada. My father had the amazing opportunity to be awarded a Fulbright teacher exchange post in South Africa in 2005. My family switched houses with Ngubo Ndaba; while my dad inserted himself into the Herschel Village school outside of Lady Grey in the Eastern Cape, Ngubo took up his post at Islesboro Central School. I lived and went to school in South Africa for six months, overwhelmed and in awe of the languages, landcapes, animals, and people. Constantly friendly and overwhelmingly happy people. Whether wealthy Africaans hunters, or impoverished Xhosa soccer players, my family and I were welcomed by all. My biggest difficulties were the embarrassment over only knowing English (everyone knew 3 languages and many knew over 5) and handling the fantastical views people had of America (the imported media, entertainment, and culture from the U.S. was bizarre at best). My time there seems to be a separate chapter of my life. Perhaps with this trip I am looking to find common threads between life there and life here. Both common ground and alternative options, between the life I have known and life in other families, on other islands, in other countries or continents. Bogotá, Colombia seemed to be the best value for a plain ticket south. I did a research report on Colombia in 4th grade and always remembered the capitol city. It seems fitting to start there.