When I was five, my family left the U.S. and moved to Managua, Nicaragua. It was the beginning of our life abroad that would include four more countries and last for thirteen years.
I started my first day of kindergarten at a local school. What began as an exciting adventure quickly faded. Sitting at my desk in my little blue school uniform, meant to equalize us all, I realized my inability to speak Spanish made me an outsider. But it wasn’t until I had to find my bus home that I accepted I was really lost. As I watched the last one drive away, I sat down on a cement bench and cried. I wasn’t alone, though. A group of girls came over, stroked my hair, and gave me candy. I remember that candy. It was a little sugar cube wrapped in paper with pictures of fruits printed on it. As it melted in my mouth, I found the picture of the grape I tasted on my tongue. I felt safe. To this day, I have no idea how I got home, but I never felt like an outsider again.
The older I get, the more I understand how much it matters what we teach and show our children. Acceptance and love or distrust and hate are choices. So when I see hate in response to all of the tragedies in our world today, I say travel. It is not the prelapsarian Eden we are all looking for, but it is the basis for the panacea we need. Seeing “others” as like us, with all of their humanity, is made easier when you share common experiences. However, it is within the differences that we really learn. Music and food and companionship, with their foreign notes, are gifts from real people who both shrink and broaden our world.
Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
So travel, within your community or to far-off lands. Learn all you can. Where you go is not important. A new way of seeing things is the destination.
There will be someone there to offer you that piece of candy. You just have to be willing to taste it.
Elizabeth Roach grew up as a third culture kid living in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Egypt and Indonesia. She now lives in Pickens, SC with her husband and two children.