Since I was a young girl, my parents have made a point of taking my older brother and I traveling around the United States and later around the world. The first long trip I remember taking was a trip to Hawaii with my family the summer after 5th grade. I was an awkward teenager who hated being seen in a swimsuit, and was full of teenage angst the entire trip. But for some godforsaken reason my parents decided I was a delight to travel with and proceeded to take me with them on a trip to Ireland a year later, trips around the United States to places like Colorado for skiing and Florida for Disney World magic, and they even took me on two-week long family trips to Costa Rica the summers after sixth and seventh grade.
Thankfully by the eighth grade my parents had wised up and decided a trip without me might be a little fun. When my amazingly well connected public middle school offered the opportunity for eight students to go on an eight-day long exchange program to our sister school in Japan, and by some miracle I was chosen to go on the trip, my parents were all too happy to pay for it for me. (Side note – my parents are the most amazing people on earth and without their support my life would be entirely different, so I cannot thank them enough for all they have done.)
I was super nervous – eight days (the longest any parent really wants their thirteen-year-old child to be halfway across the world without them) in Japan, representing my middle school, my state, even my entire country as an exchange student. My mom still tells the story of how I honestly believed I was going to start an international incident and thought it would be better if I stayed home instead. It took all her persuasive power to convince me that (obviously) a thirteen year old girl would not start an international incident and I would have one of the best experiences of my life. And needless to say, she was right, but it only slightly calmed my nerves at the time.
Here is a picture of the host family I stayed with in Shiwa, Iwate:
If you couldn’t tell, I’m the awkward ginger standing in the back.
Going all the way around the world to travel Japan at thirteen years old with seven other twelve and thirteen year olds, and two teachers – both of whom were known around our middle school as hard-asses but were actually really awesome people – was a truly unique experience. And ironic to the future course my life would take, I was actually the most homesick of all the other students. While now I appreciate all of the experiences I had in Japan, at the time I would have given anything to have a nice slice of amazing American apple pie. And the second I got off the plane in Chicago when we came back home, I dropped to the ground and kissed the American soil I was standing on.
Now, ten years later, I have traveled to sixteen countries, visited every continent except for Antarctica before the time I turned 21 years old, and lived in three different countries. And the best part – I have made hundreds of thousands of stories, both good and bad, that I have been able to tell to people all over the world.