Growing up in a small town is not always as easy as it seems, and when I graduated from high school in 2005, I had an itch to get away, travel, and experience life outside of rural New Hampshire. Only a few months later, I hopped on a plane headed anywhere but home to travel for eight months with only a backpack and my stomach in my throat. Through all of my adventures I dealt with a lot of people giving me grief for being from the States. Many times in a group, I would be asked where I was from and when I answered, the person would stop talking to me altogether and just focus on the others I was with. The worst response was from a Greek man I was sharing a taxi with and he told me, “No good, no good.” In my defense, the taxi driver yelled at him. It was so frustrating that sometimes I would even pretend I was from Canada. Soon though, I decided this was not an option.
All through my youth I struggled to fit in with my peers and find comfort with myself. Although my social life was not as full as I used to wish, I always had a strong home base and plenty of support in whatever I chose to take on. One thing my father always said to me during a particularly difficult period was, “Be yourself, do what you’re passionate about, and soon enough, you’ll find people with similar interests and who appreciate you for who you are.” It was difficult to not give in to the social pressures around me, but I am thankful I held out and did not try to fit anyone else’s description of ‘cool’.
As I moved into bigger schools with more diverse groups of people, I did find those amazing friends my dad had always told me about. In high school, I was finally on my way to being content with myself. My desire to travel mostly derived from my interest in other cultures and the beauties the world held for me, but some came from the chubby little girl I used to be, wanting to get away and prove not only to others but to myself I could do whatever I put my mind to just like my kindergarten teacher had always said.
When I first reached Greece, I was immediately accepted into the international volunteer group I would be a part of for the next seven weeks. I was at first amazed at how open and accepting these people where to a stranger from the States, but soon I recognized how similar we were and that my experiences as a child left me with a slightly warped perception of humans innate abilities to be accepting and understanding. I first realized I needed to not be ashamed of where I was from when two amazing friends from Sweden told me I had broken every stereotype they had of Americans because of the bias and misinformation in their national news and lack of personal contact they had. When they informed me of this, I decided to deal with the prejudice I received and try to be a positive symbol for my home, and if I did not change some views, I could change others and not reinforce the stereotypes already in place. Eight months of traveling taught me more about myself, others, and the world then four years in high school.
By the end of my travels, I had gained amazing friends from all over the world, worked for a few amazing organizations, and had the most unforgettable experiences that changed me profoundly. I was able to do this because I gave up the norm of going to college right away and did not wait for a friend to have the guts to join me. I am currently a braver more confidant person who is comfortable in her own skin and am more aware of the respect I give and receive. Although I have my moments of shyness or hesitation I do not see the point of missing out on life because there is a chance it might not turn out the way I had hoped. By remaining true to myself I can be true to others and it has given me the strength to not hold back. The world respects you more when there is realness in your words and passion in your eyes. Be yourself and your life will follow you wherever you desire to go.
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