Guest Post: Globetrekking with Youth

Among the many purposes that I want My Sunlit Path to serve is for it to be a means of connecting, sharing, informing and occasionally inspiring.  That said, I am so excited to welcome Echo, the first in a series of guest bloggers that I plan to feature here on my modest corner of the blogspere.

Echo (her pseudonym) is nothing if she’s not inspiring!  She’s a mother, teacher and world traveler, who in her own words, “has enough travel love to share” with everyone.   Just say Echo’s name and any who know her automatically think of energy, enthusiasm and adventure.   Below, she tells a little bit about what first inspired her to set out and explore the world as well and how and why she takes her children along on her sojourns across the country and around the globe.    Enjoy!

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 erica near volcano

When I was a little girl growing up in the Bronx, New York each time I heard a new language being spoken it was like music to my soul. This was so much true that after graduation from high school, there was only one thing I wanted to be: a linguist. My choice to enter university as a Spanish major confused a lot of people, especially given that I knew no more than ten words of the language.

Them: “Why would you major in Spanish without already speaking the language?”

Me: “Surgeons don’t go into medical school knowing how to operate. Their professors teach them. Mine will teach me to speak Spanish.”

For me, it was as simple as that.

One requirement for earning my foreign language degree was to study abroad and live with non-English-speaking families in a variety of countries while taking courses at local universities. My first study abroad opportunity came in 1996, and it was as if the Universe heard my linguistic wishes because I found myself in Guayaquil, Ecuador in the care of the most loving, giving host family I could hope for.  After visiting Ecuador and earning my Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Literature and Education, I was addicted and in love with the world. From then on, each time a new travel opportunity arose, my brain stood at full attention ready for the challenge. I reenacted this scenario in many different countries over the next four years, eventually becoming fluent in French.

Airplane

Nearly twenty years after my decision to pursue my passion, I am a Spanish teacher at an Atlanta-area high school in what many would label “the hood.” I am also married to a man who stole my heart while I was visiting his small Caribbean island and am mother to our two very creative, intelligent and energetic bilingual boys aged 10 and 5 ½ .  In the beginning of this new chapter in my life, many people again tried to convince me that my wanderlust would have to be set aside because I’d said yes to wifedom and motherhood. Fortunately for me, the “call of the wild” was not silenced by my job, marriage, or children and never will be. In fact, those things have made the call louder and more urgent, and as soon as my sons could sit up straight enough to take their passport pictures, we were on the move. Often we three travel alone, but it’s even better when my husband is able to get off of work long enough to join us.   In the last three years my sons and I have visited the  memorials to Lincoln, Washington and King in D.C, felt the mists of Niagara Falls on our faces and watched live professional sumo matches in Tokyo. We’ve snapped pictures of a herd of elephants strolling by on safari in South Africa. They’ve laughed hysterically at me when an iguana perched himself on top of my head in Belize. And while having children has not eliminated travel from my life, it has definitely changed how I travel. Now, I move much more slowly and take time to soak in the environment by doing things like sitting in parks to feel the breeze. I also take time to explain the history of all the countries we’ve visited in simple terms that children can understand. In traveling as a family, we learn, solve problems and make memories together.

Photo Collage for Sunlit

To most people, our trips sound lavish and exotic, but the truth is that we do them on a shoe string budget. There is a financial art funding our travels that I have managed to master over the years. For instance, you will never find us in a fancy hotel.  When it comes to lodging, we either couch surf, seek out rentals through Airbnb, stay with host families, our own family or in hostels. As for transportation, we take buses across country or take the subway or other types of public transport through big cities.

Before I began my career as a Spanish teacher, I noticed that African-American men were vastly under-represented in the international travel circles I encountered. To be more accurate, their presence was almost non-existent. I decided to do something about it by leading study tours to various international destinations.  I also organize these tours because I believe that travel is a part of a quality education that should be open to not only my own children but others’ children as well.  In past years I’ve led my student groups on explorations of Panamá, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. While abroad, my students divide their time between language study and volunteerism. We all live with host families with two students assigned to each family, and we take tours on the evenings and weekends. For my students, international travel is a life-changing experience that inspires not only them but also their families and community.

When I first started the program, many doubted that it would be possible.  Again came a litany of reasons why I should abandon my vision.  Those who thought that low-income students were not the best prospect for global travel made comments that went along the lines of: “Doesn’t she know that parents in this neighborhood don’t have the disposable income to pay for a two-week trip to another country? And even if they did, they’d probably spend it on a pair of sneakers!” and “Isn’t it a war zone over there? They’ll be kidnapped!” As usual the naysayers were wrong! Without exception, all of the parents of my students want opportunities for their children that they may not have had themselves and are willing to sacrifice to make the “impossible” a reality. When money needs to be raised, they share funds and support each other. And on the day that passports and visas come in the mail, parents often call me overcome with pride and joy and sometimes offering thanks through tears. It is truly a village effort where loving elders use their energy and resources to create opportunity for the future generation. It is gratifying to me as an educator to see that after having experiences like touring the Panama Canal, volcano boarding in Nicaragua, and visiting Tikal Mayan Pyramids in Guatemala, the parents and students feel that the world is theirs for the taking. This year, our eyes are set on making a journey to Machu Picchu, Perú. I trust that just as the universe conspired to make my travel dreams reality twenty years ago, that the same grace will allow this group of amazing young young people to see more of the world.

Photo

Travel is for me a lifestyle, a vital part of who I am. It has shaped my world view and allowed me to turn my gaze inward to see some of the deepest parts of myself in the clearest of light. At times it feeds my brain with heavy doses of adrenalin that help me learn to survive, communicate and bend to the new rules of my host country. In my role as a travel ambassador, I have encouraged my children and the students I teach to take their place in the global community and see themselves as valued citizens. I challenge all of my students to see past race, comprehend beyond the barriers of language, taste new foods, and feel full of the spirit of humanity that lives within us all. Our travels have given the world a chance to see a fuller and more complex view of black America, one that rarely comes their way.   In having the courage to pursue our dreams we allow the world to see us for who we are. Intelligent. Ambitious. Aware. Afroed and dreadlocked. All shades of black, brown and beige.  Descendants of warriors who built and governed nations, fought the injustices of slavery and brought segregation to an end. Ones who never accepted and continue to work to correct ill-informed notions of our inferiority, wherever they may appear. We stand humble yet proud as we extend our hearts and hands to the world and invite them to do the same with us.

Photo Collage 2 for Sunlit

Learn more about our guest blogger’s adventures by visiting Echo’s Travelogue.

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