Wednesday, January 2, 2013

An extra suitcase packed... always! ;)

Dear God,

Thanks for making it possible for me to be born on an island. Thanks to my family and geographically obvious needs to feed the cravings to explore the world, I was introduced to the giant, metal bus-like birds that fly the skies taking people to places they wish to visit.

I first stepped foot inside an airplane at age 8. My parents and brother were with me when my heart would stop, leap and smile, the first of many. This time it was on route to Orlando. Duh, of course, it was a family trip to Disney World. Indeed, it was the first of many trips to the land of the mouse, but no matter how often we'd ride Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Peter Pan's flight or Dumbo (so dumb, even at 8!), that first trip was indeed magical. I stepped into the magical world of traveling, the "real" one, the official one, the traveling you did in something other than a car. Remember, my extent of traveling pretty much was summed up by a two hr drive to grandmas.

This entry is not about my childhood trips to Disney. It's an introduction to the experience of travel, traveling as an educational and undeniably transformative out-of-body experience. The quintessential "beam me up, Scotty", blink of an eye experience of beginning your day in one city, sometimes one country and wake up in another one. So cool. So time-travel like. So new and different every time, regardless of how often you take that one step into the plane before turning right and finding your seat. That moment when you give up control of your fate for the next 2 or 4 or 8 or 12 hours, but you do it blindly because the excitement of reaching the destination is worth any moments of anxiety you may feel. Did I say magical? :) I believe it as I make the sign of the cross. Hello, Catholic, here! I am good, God, you are always the co-pilot, right? ;)

I thought about picking one trip, one city as a highlighted favorite to write about and about how that particular trip stayed with me over the years, but I can't. It's too hard. I need to share with everyone a different, unconventional traveling experience, summed up in the most exciting two years of my life.

This entry and my most humble thanks, go to my fellow cast members, my bus dates and fellow stage flowers, stage managers and stars of Up With People, Cast C- 96 and Cast C- 97. For those that don't know what I am talking about, I shall explain...:)

February 1996 came and went in a New York minute (smile!) and I was a college senior. Panicking and breaking out in hives one Sunday afternoon, I ended up in the ER of Miami Valley Hospital because I was clueless about what to do when May came and life after UD officially would begin. Again, panic and hives all over- NOT a pretty sight. Just ask Yasmin, Eli and Rebecca, for they loyally sat by me as the I-V of hydrocortisone and Benadryl dripped slowly to bring the swelling down. Mental block, please!

Two weeks later I met Eric Lentz, from the admission office at UWP and I told him how my dad was an alum, how I applied on a whim a year earlier and got accepted but there was no way I could take a year off college to travel the world. "What about now?", he asked. Maybe, I thought.

With the blessing of my father and with multiple rolling of eyes from other members of the family, I packed my bags one more time. This time I was Denver bound and from there, the world.
Up With People, for those who know, is so much more than a song and dance show about peace in the world, stemming from flower children in the 60s. It's about each and every one of the people we met on the road, at our host cities, and the towns, countries and cultures they represented.

I always believed I was open-minded. Growing up in an island either makes you "island-minded- centric"--I totally just made that up----, which enables you to focus mostly on the activities and ins and outs of the beautiful, floating world you call home, OR it makes you want more, know more and appreciate more of the world outside of the one you have only known as your own. I chose the latter. However, my open-minded mentality had not been accurately prepped for meeting people, some who would remain friends 15 years later, visiting their countries and understanding their language and customs.

Canadians and French Canadians have a distinctive way to express their own loyalties to the history, politics and pride for their culture, the Japanese are really funny while coming across as quiet and shy and the Scandinavians gave the Swiss a run for their money when it came to chocolate talk! I learned so much from them. No offense to Toblerone, but Marabou wins in my book! Bravo Sweden.

Bermuda, Italy, Germany (I LOVED Deutschland and loved learning to 'Sprechen Sie Deutsch?'- Ya, Danke!), Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Poland (Oh, Poland, I will never forget thee), The Netherlands, Africa, Ireland, Canada and USA. These are most of the countries we saw and/or were represented by my new friends. We traveled mostly by bus; long, tedious bus rides full of laughter, song and pranks - HAND CHECK! ;)

We flew to Stockholm from Atlanta on a cold late winter morning. Spent a month all over Scandinavia, slowly making our way down to Germany. A month in Germany to the Netherlands. Lichees- gross. Ah, moment of intercultural and international education: there are many people from Indonesia in Holland. I learned about the colonies and the cultural influence. Very cool! I also got to go to the University of Nijmegen, where some of my Marianist colleagues had studied years before. Small world indeed!

Woke up one morning during an early bus ride in Switzerland to a sunny "hello!, we are the Swiss Alps." One word: magnificent! There they were the Alps. Majestic, magnificent, who cares! Huge and scraping the sky's ceiling with their peaks literally breaking up the clouds as to ensure we knew how tall they were. We made it to Italy. To the mountain top tiny village of Castel San Angelo, to the Vatican and singing in front of JP2, to Venice and the beach of the Mediterranean.

We've lost some, Arthur from Ireland, Barret from the US, among others I have likely missed the last few years. May you always laugh, sing and dance (Arthur was a horrible dancer, but we loved him so!!) in our memories for ever!  Some of us get together north of the border, in a lovely French-Canadian home, where the hostess with the mostess very well knows what time "Wine O'Clock" begins! We say cheers, salud, prost, skol, chin chin!!!!

I am not giving justice to the details of the "being there"- words cannot describe all. When we concluded the year I had accepted an offer to stay with the organization and recruit participants. That began my journey to college campuses and schools, interviewing and recruiting students to experience, to live, to travel, to learn... Eventually, and fast forward more than a year later, I began my career in higher education. I have Up With People to thank. It was while being a member of this community that I became a member of the global community and most important, the higher education professional community. My professional journey began as a result of not knowing what to do with my education, and it brought me back to an environment of learning, of searching for knowledge, for truth. I recruit for experiences. I am such a nerd!!

Traveling is not for everyone. It is not of interest nor it is a part of some people's items on a bucket list to visit foreign countries or even places in their own backyard. That's OK. It's different for me. It is like breathing to me. It is a feeling of being alive; alive in a world that gets smaller every day. The world is ours to explore and I have been blessed to have explored part of it. Blessed and lucky I am for the friends I met during those amazing years. Near and far they are, but not forgotten. While my college years were the best, my years "on the road" - both in the USA AND abroad- with Up With People, gave me life, showed me the world and left deep, beautifully sculptured scars in my heart and my mind. In a way, I guess my bags are packed always... I am sooo ready to go!

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