Monday, February 2, 2009

"That's How It Starts"

Back when I was studying in Spain we had a lot of vacation time. On one of the vacation periods, a few of us rented a couple of cars and took off for Lagos, Portugal. You'll find Lagos listed on one of my top European cities on the left. It's really just a small beach town, but it was a hell of a time, with incredibly warm locals. Anyway, while we were there we took a half hour drive to a point with cliffs where the locals used to believe the end of the world existed, back in the medieval days when they though the Earth was flat. Actually, the picture for this blog, up above with the sunset, is from that exact location.

So while we were there taking in the sunset, freezing on the windy cliffs, a woman came up to my friend, who was wearing a William and Mary sweatshirt, and asked if she went there. My friend said yes, and the woman seemed happy, saying that she had attended William and Mary a few years earlier. So they started talking and we asked what she was doing in Portugal. The woman said that she was teaching English up north near Lisbon and that she'd been around to a few countries before coming to this country.

We agreed that it sounded cool, and she asked if we were on vacation, so we said yes, but that we were studying abroad in Spain. "That's how it starts," she said with a smile. It was kind of a weird thing to say, and I don't think any of us really took it to heart at the time. I remember even thinking that it was a little odd to be living abroad and teaching English. It didn't seem like something I'd ever be interested in doing.

But as time went on, I became more interested in living abroad, and those words really began to ring true. Studying abroad is how it starts for many people. Some just use it as one experience in their lives to go off of, but others use it as a launching pad to go into a certain field or begin traveling more often. Of the people involved in my organization, almost all of them studied abroad somewhere at some point.

After studying in Spain I wanted more, and I went to Uruguay for my last spring break to do some volunteer work. I was already planning on living abroad again by that point and had applied to two organizations to teach abroad. One option was going back to Spain, to a place I already knew and loved. And the other option was going to Ecuador, a country I didn't know much about and knew would be a struggle. But I went with something new and a way to challenge myself, and so far it has worked out well.

And now I find myself looking ahead again. My next plan is to move to Argentina for a few months or a year after I am finished with my time in Ecuador. My plan is to finally go back home once I leave Argentina, way in the future, but it's hard to say exactly what I'll do before I even get to a place. And if I've learned anything from my experiences so far, it's that you can't really be sure of something until you've had enough time to work through it. But what she said is true. It's just the start, and there are many other ways I can continue my involvement in international relations, even if I live back in the United States. Yet once you have lived abroad, it opens your eyes to many things, more so than just traveling through a place, and it's a change that affects who you are and what you do, for better or worse.

Above: Images from Lagos, Portugal and the cliffs

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