S/C: Why I Travel
Welcome to our first ever column @ Necia! We would like to officially introduce Silvia Cristina Higareda as our columnist on traveling and tech. The installments will appear monthly and share personal reflections on navigating this big, big world as a bicultural woman. Over the course of the next few months, check in to read new posts that give a glimpse into the multitudinous Latinx experience.
Alright, alright, I won’t make you wait until the end of this essay: community. I travel for the community. It might sound oxymoronic having to remove myself from my home, my bubble, my peeps in order to foster a community in the unknown, but that has been my reality. In my personal experience, traveling has given me the greatest sense of community and unity.
I am blessed to come from a happy home and great friends, but something happens when I am abroad in foreign lands that I believe exponentially builds bonds and helps me become self-actualized. First and foremost there is vulnerability. When setting sail on a trip, alone and with no return date, I am stripped of the bubble I have all my life known. I swear something happens on that flight abroad, that my bubble starts fading. I land on the other side standing on my own. My thoughts of “how people expect me to behave” or the definitions I have of myself which were inescapably influenced by my society, culture and people in it, melt away. Nobody knows me in this new place, and this allows me to be my authentic self, because no one has expectations of how I should act or feel. It is in that mixture of freedom and raw vulnerability that lay the foundation for my encounter with a community.
I realized at some point abroad that I was not the only one feeling vulnerable and free. Just like me, there were hundreds of other travelers trying to navigate foreign lands, languages and cultures, figuring it out on the go. This lead hundreds of people in my vicinity to have a similar shared experience. We were all are vulnerably and humbly thrown into the unknown.
In my experience, when traveling, the mixture of vulnerability and adventure leads to quick and deep connections. I have had real, open, raw conversations with people I have known for a bus ride. In comparison, meeting someone new in my home city would probably take months before we reached that level of conversation and intimacy. That is probably because in my home city everyone is busy, including myself; we have meetings, brunches, classes to get to. When I’ve traveled I have been able to be more present with the people I meet and make more connections. Be it the rushing through life or the cliquiness of our social encounters, I feel we are just so much more guarded when socializing in our bubble. Travel pulls me out of that bubble and into one where connections are compulsive, necessary.
To put all of this into context I’d like to share a personal story. The year was 2007, I was seventeen years young and had just decided to postpone my senior year of high school for a year abroad in Belgium. Pre-Belgium me loved dancing, but I did NOT dance in public. Looking back, I recall being embarrassed of what people might think, but I also remember thinking “people don’t expect to see me dancing, I am not going to dance”. I thought people would be shocked if I busted a move. All of this seems ridiculous now, nobody would have even noticed if I busted a move, they were probably too worried thinking about their own moves to worry about mine! But hey, this was high school--- those are self-conscious times.
Then, I arrived in Belgium: I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know anyone there. Then all of a sudden, thanks to the Rotary Youth Exchange Program meets, there were two hundred of me. Two hundred exchange students, around my age, packed into tiny Belgium. Given Belgium’s size I can confidently say the exchange student per capita rate was too damn high! And they were all going through the same things I was.
Here we were, teenagers, trying to learn a new language, being away from family, navigating a new culture, alone but together. We all became friends fast. We were all itching to really connect so we could start sharing our experiences. I had never before been surrounded by such an open, welcoming, and loving group of strangers, host families included. I began to be my authentic self with them, there was no judgement. It was the purest version of the phrase “come as you are; we are all in this together.” One time on a trip to Greece, one of our fellow exchange students got her camera stolen, right out of her hands. She was devastated, all her pictures were gone. The rest of us all pitched in and bought her a new one, that’s the kind of community we were.
Nevertheless, it had to end; we only had a year together. In that year I laughed, cried, discovered the outside world and my inside world more than I ever had, and it was all thanks to them. This wild community of travelers, exchange students who accepted me before they even knew me, allowing me to accept myself for myself. So I danced-- I danced from beginning to end. We sang too, we sang a lot, in buses, streets, and bars. We even had a made up chant that gets past on from generation to generation of exchange students arriving in Belgium. I remember describing my departure from them as my heart breaking into two hundred pieces and each of them taking a tiny piece with them back to their respective countries.
It physically hurt to leave that community. When people leave to travel for a while, everyone thinks of the departure from their hometown to the foreign lands as being hard. Everyone talks about how they are leaving everything behind. The truth is that is not always the hard departure. My true heart aching departure was on the way back, heading from my travels back home. Because what I had while I was traveling, the combination of people and community in that moment, will never be repeated again. I really don’t think all two hundred of us will be in Belgium together in the way we were back in 2008-2009 ever again. That’s sad, but I realized that everything that I lived leading up to my leaving Belgium was where I’ve had the most incredible moments and grew the most as a person. And now, as a result, I crave that warmth, that unity… that growth, always.
So, I do it again and again. I go on travel benders, to find new perspectives, new communities that stimulate my personal development. New fellow travelers to share the present moment with. Even if it is only for a moment, that awe of seeing and feeling the world with a kindred community remains ingrained in me forever. There are many ways of finding and growing our social bonds, but travel just happens to be the way for me.