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Sí valdrá la pena

March, 2004 – the first time I traveled alone. I was thirteen, nearly fourteen, a middle school student flying to Philadelphia to visit my brother and sister-in-law. As an “unaccompanied minor,” I had to wear a badge around my neck with “U.M.” spelled in white block letters on a scarlet background. I tried to hide it under my jacket, but the woman who led me from the ticket counter to the plane demanded it remain in plain view.

In Philadelphia, I was driven around the airport until I saw my brother. When our eyes met I yelled, “Seth!” and I told the guard, “That’s him, over there.” Still, the security guard made my brother present his identification.

I knew who he was; why did he have to identify himself? I thought. I was furious. Why wouldn’t the airline let me be? Why did they make me wear these humiliating letters? Everything they did took away my autonomy and made public my age and immaturity, the two things I wanted to escape by flying solo.

Now, I see that me circa 2004 knew that traveling opens up opportunities, and I was flustered when others prevented me from exploring these. I had the ability, for this short flight, to be me on my terms and nobody else’s. It was my chance to see a big city, to find out what else the world has to offer, and that scarlet badge hindered me.

Now, in some ways, I wish I could have that badge back, to have somebody watching over me as I travel. My family was in Philadelphia to be my guide; this time, I’m travelling alone. Nobody at the airport, no home to go to, nothing. The potential to remake myself is greater than ever before, but so is the potential to become lost – lost in the city, or lost to myself.

Ultimately, this is what drives me to make this adventure: the opportunity to free myself of both my preconceived notions of the world and the world’s preconceived notions of me. Each, in the end, allows us to know ourselves better; the absence of labels permits us to visit worlds that were once out of reach, to see how or where we fit into the galaxy of personalities and peoples that populate our planet.

All of which isn’t to say it’s an easy process. I suspect that more than one out of every five Americans would have a passport if it were otherwise (http://www.usatoday.com/travel/news/2005-09-01-passports_x.htm). There will be misunderstandings and fear; I will struggle and second-guess myself from time to time. But there will also be elation and wonder amidst all this adventure.

What I’m trying to say is, this trip vale la pena. Generally translated as “worthwhile,” vale la pena literally means, “it’s worth the pain (or embarrassment, etc.).” And my travels, studies, mishaps and more will, in the end, be worthwhile.

I began my travels Tuesday, December 28, when I flew from Newark to Caracas, to celebrate the New Year with my girlfriend and her family. From here, I’ll be flying to Colombia in late-January, where I will hopefully see the beach at El Parque Nacional Tayrona, the salt mine cathedral at Zipaquirá, and more. Then I’m off to Ecuador in mid-February for a currently uncharted trip, and finally to Lima, Perú at the end of the month to begin my studies abroad.

I hope to share with you pictures, conversations, meals, etc. that I experience along the way. I hope to illuminate a few aspects of what it means to travel and what it’s like to live in foreign places. I will put myself out there, both on the ground and online, in hopes that such honesty will lead to the most honest discoveries.

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