A part of being raised in the rural South means accepting segments of the population are content with never traveling beyond its borders and that’s ok, no judgement here. America, in general is plagued by capitalism, racism and just a word of advice, there’s really no escaping it, but I wanted more. I always have.
As a child growing up in a small country town in Southeast Texas, getting out of Port Arthur was the only thing I remember thinking about. Port Arthur, Texas is filled with a hard working population whose values center around sports, music, and religion. Home to approximately fifty-four thousand residents, it is one of the most culturally diverse places in Texas and home to the nation’s largest collection of refineries. The goal for many parents there, just as most parents around the world, is to see their children succeed. This often translates to athletic scholarships or a position supplying the nation with crude oil.
Some escape these tropes and in turn become some of the most influential people in American culture. A few of the most well-known people are Janice Joplin, Pimp C, Bun B, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jimmy Johnson. Between tradition and exploration lingering at life’s crossroad after college, I chose (drumroll please), in the words of the great poet Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken.
As a kid, I remember always watching travel channels more than any others. From a very early age I enjoyed the idea of traveling. When the opportunity arose I made the decision to leave America and move to Spain. Life changed the moment my passport was returned to me stamped with a visa issued by the Spanish government. It only took a few weeks before I learned how simple life could be if only people chose to live it that way. However, it wasn’t until I returned to the States that I began to notice how much living in Spain had changed me. Surrounded by family I would often find myself thinking about my now extended family in their countries. Home itself became more fluid because a piece of me still lives in a home away from home. My extended family now expanded beyond borders and spanned multiple time zones. Living abroad changed my way of thinking. Having the ability to sustain myself in another country, manage my own time, and live an uninterrupted life redefined what freedom meant to me. I have returned, so now what?! I had to redefine my life. My priorities shifted coming back to America. Important things in Spain such as family time, going outside, stopping at a bar midday are reserved for weekends now. I was sure going to miss my lifestyle in Spain.
After a year of living in Spain, my loved ones immediately sensed I was different and most waited with anticipation for my return. No matter how hard I tried, it was close to impossible for me to condense a year’s worth of life experiences into one conversation. If I could, I’d tell them I have grown accustomed to what I consider to be an ideal work-life balance. Every afternoon everyone in Spain take two hours out of their mid-day to relax. Local parents take their children home for lunch where they have a meal and talk about what needs to be done when they return home. Meanwhile, I was able to walk to the nearest bar where I ate tapas and enjoyed a few drinks with other teachers. Other times I preferred to nap underneath the shade of trees in the park nearest the school before waking up reenergized. Simple things like having to air-dry my laundry made me more conscious of how much energy I consumed. Now that I have learned to live without electric driers, I view them as nothing less than a luxury item. Somehow I could never fit all of this into a conversation I knew would be forgotten after someone offers, as an alternative conversation, all the latest church gossip.
Back at home in Port Arthur life continued moving along at a familiar pace. Wal-Mart moved in a few years before I left for college and forced local markets to close after they couldn’t compete with their low prices. I would tell my family I have issues whenever fresh fruits and vegetables are more than a few blocks away from my house. Food deserts−communities where sources of fresh foods are scarce−in my hometown became a sore spot for me because I had grown accustomed to frequenting markets in my neighborhood. Regardless of which community I walked through, finding fresh produce was never an issue. Not a year ago I lived a life where I only had to decide whether to ride the metro with produce or pick it up on my way home.
As my mother and I drove, we passed a sign indicating we were now entering Port Arthur’s city limits. The lone mall my friends and I used to frequent—bordered by chain restaurants— all indicated I was home. Yet, it didn’t quite feel the same as it did when I was growing up. Home as I knew it hadn’t changed much but I no longer felt I completely belonged. As I stood in familiar places I can remember never being present all the time. Life for many who remained continued as expected. Yet, each day I recalled a life I knew existed a world away where a piece of me continues to live.
There is no turning back after boarding that flight knowing you won’t return until the following year. After needing to speak a second language regularly, enjoying easy access to fresh produce, and communing with people who have become like family, pieces of me were left in each country where I felt loved. It reminds me of how important exposure to cultures unlike the ones you’re familiar with can be so important in gaining an understanding. Moments like these remind me that even though my parents’ doors are always open, I can never really go back home. Home has become more than just the physical house where I grew up as a child. I now belong to the world and the world to me.
Culture varies with each country you visit and they are unique in their own right. It was after having lived among, drank, and ate with locals that I began to see the humanity in culture. No matter what language they spoke I never had a negative thought directed at anyone projected from my own insecurities. Throughout hardship people will generally laugh to keep from crying. There were times in Morocco where I could only communicate with my host family using body language. Often making sure I was well fed despite having little to eat after I was gone. I felt good knowing that by replacing the food I ate−plus some extra for the mother who seemed to function as cook, caretaker, and host−something good came from the exchange. I learned the only discernible differences between us are the miles and time zones that separate us. It is with a free spirit I choose to make the most of my time before my passport is renewed. I sincerely hope by living an unimpeded lifestyle I can encourage others to venture outside their comfort zones. Although I’m back and settled my mind still contemplates the what ifs? What if I never lived in Spain, what if I never traveled the world? I’m elated to conclude that we will never know the answers to those what ifs!
When I think of my journey, I think of both the roads I could have taken. I always come back to Robert Frost and the impact of his words “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”