Real Talk

Through the eyes of an extrovert: reexamining identity through travel amidst a pandemic

Since I can remember, my parents’ most sage piece of advice was to “travel the world and get an education before settling down”. Even in my rebellious teenage heart, that particular point found its forever home in my heart. So hang with me for a moment and let me tell you about how travel and culture have shaped who I am today, and how my wanderlust filled soul has been and is currently dealing with the struggles of being relatively home-ridden during a global pandemic.

I grew up with people from a variety of different cultures even though my biological family is very small. I was blessed to grow up with vastly diverse peoples I considered family: from Japan to Dominican Republic to Kenya to Mexico to China to Canada and beyond. Homeschooled until the 8th grade, my mother did an incredible job of taking a multiculturalist approach to my education and experiences — which would bode well for me later in life, made me a well-rounded and educated individual, and also made it so that travel and culture were an integral part of who I now am as a person.

As a biracial Afro-Dominican who has had a wild, twisty and exciting life path, identity has always been finicky for me to define. I don’t tick just one box on the census and certainly do not fit into any type of societal box set out for me. Call me what you want — an ENFP, free spirit, Sagittarius, extrovert. I am a woman of the people, energized by new places, interesting people, and their unique experiences and walks of life.

In some ways, I’ve been as basic as the rest. When I travel I want to see the tourist attractions and take all the stereotypical pictures. But, while admittedly fun, these are the superficial parts of travel for me — I want to talk to people, experience and learn from their culture and way of living, learn their local phrases and sayings or practice speaking in their language. (To elaborate on this a little, I was traveling once with a person who was more interested in the luxurious hotel experience than the community we were in in Mexico, so I ditched him for an afternoon and met wonderful people, ate delicious food and listened to good music, but that is a different adventure story for another time.) The greatest lessons I have gleaned in this lifetime have come from learning about all the beautiful things that make us different and delving deep into the human experience.

And then, as the saying goes, “COVID happened.”

I can’t think of any other time where my lifestyle changed so drastically overnight as it did in March 2020. It is a wild and globally shared experience unlike any other. Being energized by people, community, culture and travel — I almost immediately fell into a depressive state: as if an intricate part of who I was had been stripped away. I desperately missed people, long road trips with good music, new places and cultures, and the views from an airplane window. I’ll spare you all the gory details of my quarantine depression, but I will say it has forced me to reshape the way I view myself, travel, and adventure.

I learned quickly that while one of my favorite ways to travel has been to get on an airplane, there are a plethora of other ways to scratch the travel itch. During quarantine, I got to go on drives and discover the natural wonders in my own corner of the world in a socially distant manner. Since we are all extra virtually connected these days, I have gotten to virtually “travel” and connect with people from a variety of cultures through platforms such as Tik Tok, Instagram, GroupMe and more. Museums across the world have opened up for virtual tours. I’ve gotten to try out new recipes from different parts of the world and try new types of cuisine through food delivery services.

For a time, and even now, I “travel” from the safety of my own home — allowing my imagination to run rampant and learn within the confines of four walls or through a screen, for the safety and health of all around us. And yet, I have been so blessed to begin safely traveling again in the last couple of months, and I am excited for the adventures to come.

We are living in unprecedented times and are having to reimagine a plethora of things — including what travel looks like and will look like in upcoming months and years. I have a nagging feeling that the world will never again be quite as we once knew it, but this future does not have to look so bleak. We move forward, reshaping our futures in this uncertain era of time, while of course doing everything that we can to keep others safe.

I urge you — keep traveling, keep imagining, keep connecting, keep learning, and keep adding chapters to this beautiful storybook that is life and the human experience.

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