Monday, January 4, 2016

The Journey to Colombia



As the calendar pages flipped from 2015 to 2016, I have found myself doing some reflecting on the past few years. In the last year of my 20's, I have been asked by many people the question of how I ended up in Colombia, along with why I am still single and show no signs of settling down anytime soon. To really answer that question, we need to start a few years back - 29 to be exact...

Ever since I can remember, I have been a traveler. My first flight happened when I was no more than 3 or 4 months old, as my parents and I would make trips back and forth from Washington D.C. (where I was born) to Iowa and Illinois (where my parent's families are located). This constant moving about to new places and cities just became part of life. 

When I was 5, my family moved to a small town in southeastern Iowa to be closer to family. This move, from the large, bustling city to a confined farming town was a huge factor in why I currently find myself sitting at a café in Colombia recounting my journey. Growing up, I was never satisfied with the limits that living in a rural community presented me. The want and desire to explore everything around me began building up inside of me.

Finally, as a 16-year-old, my first opportunity to truly step outside of my comfort zone presented itself. I spent six weeks during the summer living in San Jose, Costa Rica. The efforts of the local Lions Club helped make this adventure possible. This was my first true taste of what existed beyond the borders of Iowa and the United States. Remember, I had a very limited Spanish ability and had no real idea of what I was getting myself into. However, I just remember the rush of stepping off the plane in a foreign land and just having to figure out how to survive and persevere.

My trip to San José quickly turned into a two-week stay in the town of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, where I took intensive Spanish courses at a local school. This was my first experience traveling with a somewhat organized group and it stuck. Being able to meet and interact with other people from the USA helped open my eyes to how others within my own country lived and thrived. It also shed some light on the fact that Iowa is somewhat of an anomaly to Americans. Quickly, I was charged with not only representing my country, but also my state. Needless to say, this challenge has been accepted.

As my high school days came to a close and I started college, I gradually discovered that opportunities to continue traveling surrounded me at every turn. It was during college that my current desire to visit every continent was instilled. Through the help of Camp Adventure Child and Youth Services, a program headquartered at the University of Northern Iowa that equips college students all over the country with the skills and opportunity to be summer camp counselors on American military bases all over the world, I was able to start checking things off my bucket list.

The time that I spent in Japan, Germany, Italy, and Hawaii really helped shape who I am today. Seeing the beauty that each of these separate locations (as well as those nearby) just reaffirmed the fact that there is so much to see and do. The memories of visiting the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, hiking to the top of Mt. Fuji in Japan, and seeing the ruins of Rome, Italy, among other amazing experiences, continue to fuel my desire to never be tied down to one place for an extended period of time. 

Also during my college years, I was fortunate enough to be able to study abroad in the quaint, yet lively city of Oviedo, Spain. This semester truly opened my eyes to the hundreds of options that were available to me in terms of future plans. I was able to not only experience a different education system for the first time, I was also able to successfully live and thrive in a new culture and language that was not my native one. Looking back on my journey, it was truly this semester in Spain that really sparked my desire to teach outside of the United States. 

Following my graduation from college, I decided to take the plunge and try my hand at teaching outside of the US. I embarked on the long 13-hour flight to Seoul, South Korea not at all sure what I would find or how this next adventure would end up. The next year was marked with a renewed appreciation for the American education system, friendships that literally spanned the globe, and an even greater understanding of where my true calling was.

So, after a two-year stint in southern Florida with an amazing AmeriCorps program (which also just further justified my new found desire to both teach and be outside of the Untied States), I applied for the Peace Corps and was accepted as a Teaching English for Livlihoods (TEL) volunteer in Colombia, South America. I am currently living in a small, rural town in the northern department of Atlanticó. While these past 17 months have been anything but easy, they have taught me so much about not only myself but what it really means to be apart of a community of humans that do generally care.

Being able to finally live out one of my biggest dreams and goals in life has been nothing short of amazing. I've given up serious relationships, financial stability, and special moments in the lives of friends and families to not only be in Colombia, but to be true to myself and travel the world. So, I'm looking forward to the new highs and lows that 2016 brings me. Hopefully the close of this magnificent ride in Colombia will just lead to more amazing and exciting opportunities.

Travel Timeline

With my host family in Guatemala (2005)
Capsule hotel in Tokyo, Japan (2007)
Parque Guell - Barcelona, Spain (2008)
Reichstag - Berlin, Germany (2008)
Cinque Terra, Italy (2009)
Diamond Head - Honolulu, Hawaii (2009)
John Lennon Wall - Prague, Czech Republic (2010)
Baseball Game - Seoul, South Korea (2011)
Jungle Experience - Bangkok, Thailand (2012)
Top of Taipei 101 - Taipei, Taiwan (2012)

South Beach - Miami, Florida (2014)
La Piedra - Guatape, Colombia (2015)


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