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Friends on Pause

I land in Narita Airport, Japan, pull two thousand Yen out of the ATM, and get on the train for Tokyo. From memory I walk down familiar streets until I get to the New Zealand Embassy in northern Shibuya, where my friend Elliot lives. I haven't seen him in almost two years, and have only emailed a few times since then, but it's as if I never left. We joke around, walk to dinner, and make plans for the weekend.

The next day I pop my Japanese SIM card into my phone and call my friend Toby to let him know that I'm around. He tells me about a party he's throwing in Yoyogi park, so a couple other friends and I join him.

Nothing about these individual scenes is particularly noteworthy. That's the point. In various places around the world I have enough good friends that I can have a pretty normal life there while visiting.

Travel While You're Young

On Stuff in a Notebook

In high school I was given the opportunity to leave the country, twice, on school trips. One of my friends was always unable to go, not because they couldn't afford it, but because her parents didn't "believe that kids should leave the country at such a young age." While I respect their right to their opinion, I completely disagree. I think the best time to travel is while you're young.

As I said in my first post, I left the country for the first time when I was in the third grade. I went to Mexico. Many people think that when we are children we are too young to appreciate other countries or famous landmarks, or too young to remember the trip when we get older. I remember that trip vividly. It changed my life.

We stayed south of Cancun. I remember driving through rural neighborhoods and seeing the poorest people I'd ever seen. I remember we had a maid and a cook, who lived in a house with their kids which was connected to our rental house. I remember speaking no Spanish whatsoever and communicating with the kids, who didn't know how to swim. I remember playing with the kids in the shallow end of the pool and I remember that the language barrier meant nothing. I remember drinking powdered milk. I remember playing with dogs who lived in the neighborhood but didn't really belong to anyone. I remember climbing an ancient Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza. I remember hiding in a roped off temple at Chichen Itza with twenty other tourists because the lightning storm was so close and I remember watching stranded tourists at the top of the pyramid. I remember the heat, I remember building sandcastles on the beach. I remember there were hermit crabs everywhere. I remember eating scones for breakfast every morning. I remember the cook coming over to cut the tail off of the scorpion for us, and then he picked it up and carried it outside. I remember Coca-Cola was everywhere, and I never liked it until I tried it in Mexico (that real sugar makes a difference!). I remember driving down dirt roads. I remember we drank Fiji bottled water because we couldn't drink the water in Mexico in case it made us sick. I remember playing the Pokémon Sapphire edition, and I remember teaching the cook's kids how to play. I remember the smell distinctly. I remember hanging up our swimsuits to dry, and how it was so humid that they were still damp the next day. I remember the cook made us Mexican pizza, and his wife taught us how to make real tortillas. I remember not liking Mexican food until I went there. I remember journaling in a Hello Kitty notebook. I remember kayaking in the ocean with my friend and I remember her stepping on a sea urchin, which went through her shoe and she had to go to the hospital. I remember the water in the ocean was as warm as bathwater. I remember my mom went with the cook to drop the kids off at school, and I remember her telling me about the poverty. I remember seeing the poverty for myself, and being so thankful for what I had. I remember laying out on the beach beneath the stars and watching the lightning storm that was taking place across the ocean. I remember tourists wearing sombreros at the airport and I remember we had a layover in LA, and the hotel we stayed at smelled like green beans. I remember loving it. I was only eight, but don't you dare tell me I was too young.

Since then I 've seen the countryside of Japan, eaten massive amounts of crepes in Paris, France, touched the Mediterranean Sea and travelled Spain on crutches, and sat on the steps of parliament in Victoria, Canada. Each one incredibly unique. I could write pages on every single trip. I did wait until high school to leave the country again, but I don't think I appreciated these trips more simply because I was older. I appreciated each and every trip equally. I don't think that we need to wait until after high school to travel. In fact, I think it's incredibly important to experience other cultures while we're young. I so firmly believe in this that one day I hope to start a non-profit program which takes young students outside of the United States and shows them how to experience the world.

Mexico changed my life because I very quickly became aware of people outside of my situation. I appreciated what I had more. I gained a much greater understanding of the world, and it gave me an entirely new perspective of the world. You don't know something until you've seen it or experienced it. These trips killed stereotypes for me. I've learned to travel without cultural expectations. I've learned that rural areas can be just as cool as tourist locations. We can say we feel compassion towards those who are starving in Mexico or Africa, or that we understand there is poverty in India. But how can we know? Experiencing other cultures, breaking the language barrier, that is how it's done. When we're young we haven't quite formed as many judgments or expectations. We don't know what to expect, and we are more open to accepting these other countries. I have a greater understanding of the world because of these trips, a greater appreciation for my own country, a deeper love for those across the world, a sense of pride in my country, a passion for travelling, an acceptance of other cultures... It's important to break down stereotypes while we're young. It's important to understand others while we're young. I'm only eighteen now, but I'm not too young to travel. I'm going to study abroad. I have travel plans in the future. Many travel plans in the future. I don't plan on ever stopping.

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