When exactly did I realize that I wanted to travel extensively? Why are there so many people who are afraid to do it? Where am I off to next, and when?
I’m glad you asked.
I have probably changed in every single facet of my life in the past six years. Six years ago, I was a 15 year-old religious, republican, closeted bisexual who had absolutely no interest in reading, languages, or traveling. And now look at me! I’m a 21 year-old liberal heathen! Where oh where did you go wrong, Connor?
When I was a kid, I used to tell my mom that I wanted to live on a farm with 15 kids and any number of cows and goats. Imagine me, little gay me, picking up a plow and going to town on some corn or something. I’m not even entirely sure if I know exactly what a plow is. Perhaps farming isn’t the best career choice for me.
My first experiences with traveling were my family’s annual trips to Disney World in Florida. I loved Disney World as a kid but I hated the traveling aspect of it. 10 hours in the back seat of our Tahoe with nothing to do but watch VHS copies of Titanic or The Parent Trap (my sister wouldn’t let me pick the movies, but I secretly loved them). Not much of a joy-ride for 7 year-old Connor.
As my sister and I got older, and as the excitement of Disney World became smaller and smaller every year, my parents had to spice things up. We went on a few Disney Cruises (we were a Disney family), which stopped at various Caribbean islands. I’m pretty sure we went to Mexico during one of them. I don’t remember. What I do remember, however, is refusing to get off the boat whenever we docked on to a new island. I would rather stay inside than go explore some random island that I would probably never visit again! I cringe every time I think about what I could have missed while taking a nap or making my own Fluber (on another note, does anyone remember what a shitty movie Fluber was?)
Things changed later, however. When I was in high school I was in honors choir, which traveled to different places to preform every year. My sophomore and senior years we went to Disney World (seriously, I’ve been to Disney world a thousand times) BUT when I was a junior we went to San Juan, Puerto Rico. And that is where every thing changed.
I think those islands that I visited as a kid (or, rather, saw through the cruise ship’s window) were a bit of an illusion. We, as the tourists, only got to see the good parts, the resorts, the beaches, the Señor Frogs, and the stops were merely sprinkled with the local culture. Locals played Caribbean music, spoke in a different dialect (or something other than English entirely), they looked different, they dressed differently. But still, we were not, I admit, actually anywhere other than a resort. We hadn’t seen reality.
In San Juan, I saw a better glimpse of reality. Sure, we visited El Moro, took a trip through a jungle, and ate at a touristy-restaurant. But the choir also preformed in real iglesias y colegios, we visited their neighborhoods, we went to their malls, and we saw how the locals lived, even if for a little less than a week.
And even though Puerto Rico is technically part of the United States, and even though the people who surrounded us were actually American citizens, their culture and life were so very different from that which I had grown accustomed to in upstate South Carolina.
I have one memory from San Juan that I still think about often. I was grabbing some Subway for lunch one day (I can’t believe I missed an opportunity to eat a Puerto Rican lunch for Subway) and I decided that I would try to order my meal in Spanish. Now at this time I barely spoke any Spanish (I had forgotten the word for turkey, mustard, and cheese–the only things I wanted on my sandwich). I had only taken one year of it so far.
So I go up the counter and I say something that was probably like “Hola (hard h). Me gustarío sandwich con pavo.”
And I’ll never forget this. That woman behind the counter looked at me and said, “Ok, what else you need?” IN ENGLISH!!!!!!
But I was a persistent little thing. So I was probably like, “Queso (pronounced like kwiso) y mustardo por favor.”
And she said, “Listen, little boy, I’ve got a long line and not a lot of time. Speak to me in English.”
I remember being half-embarrassed, half-pissed, and half-discouraged (I’m 1 1/2 of a person). I felt my face turning red. The girl I was with who I had a crush on (lol a girl) probably thought I was a dumb ass who didn’t know anything about Spanish.
I decided then, in that Subway in la parte antigua de Puerto Rico that I would, one day, go to a Spanish speaking country…and not only would I order every single meal in Spanish, I would also do everything else in Spanish because I could. Even if it were out of spite, I promised myself that I would one day do the very thing that I had failed to do that day.
I haven’t been back to Puerto Rico since (but I AM DYING TO GO BACK), nor have I been to a Subway in a Spanish-speaking country (seriously, Spain, step up your Subway game. Why are there so many Burger Kings and McDonalds???)
But Puerto Rico surely initiated what has since becoming a full-fledged obsession with both traveling and the Spanish language.
Where was the first place you traveled? What are some super embarrassing experiences you’ve had involving speaking another language abroad? (Trust me, I’ve got tons)
Read part two here!