I believe a passport should be required for citizenship. Not to prove you are American, but to have the chance to become a better one.
I was 15 the first time I left my country. The first time it was fun in the sense you were away from your parents, there were new boys to meet, things to buy, and it wasn’t too long that you got homesick. I was hooked. When I was 16, I lived outside Rome with a family for a summer. I spoke little to no Italian and their English was not that much better. I could kick myself now thinking of the experience I had that I failed to fully understand then. To think that I was bored on the Tuscan farm because there were no other teenagers around and what I would do today just to find that town again. By the time I graduated from college it began to dawn on me what I owed to traveling. Days of backbacking uncovered my love for long walks, an appreciation for solitude I covet to this day, and a growing confidence in myself I’ve never let go of since. Conversations in the wee hours of dawn changed the way I saw life and ultimately changed the way I lived it. Friends I met in the craziest of situations now have children that play with mine College courses with colleagues from around the world challenged my perspective in ways more prestigious US universities never would. I’ve broken my arm in a country with socialized health care, been mugged in cities that banned guns, and watched a war unfold through the eyes of another citizenry. I’ve argued the merits of women in the military with men from Muslim armies and grasped the justice – not the bureaucracy- in our disability laws as I watched a wheelchair-bound women try to navigate through Medieval towns. I learned to love siestas, afternoon tea, and how to nurse a pint on a Tuesday night with a mate. I’ve realized how dysfunctional corruption can become and how remarkably different it can mean to be a women in another country.
In leaving the US I discovered what I loved most about it, I brought back with me what I loved most from the places I visited, and most of all, I became me. A few years ago I decided to fund a scholarship for a high school student in my hometown to participate in a foreign exchange program each year. Every year I get a thank you note from a student who tells me about how much they loved their family, or the museums they saw, or the classes they took and I can see in every letter a teenager who’s starting to discover who they are. I have over 10 of these and I still cry every time.
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