Good-Bye Passport

February 23rd, 2014 by | Country: United States (home) | No Comments »

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A couple weeks ago, I sent off my US passport to the US passport office to renew it.  Even though my passport does not expire for another year, it was time to kiss to say goodbye because there was only one page left.  Instead of shelling out of a lot of money for additional pages, it was more logical for me to go ahead and renew it.

Sending off my passport was bittersweet.  It was a key that gave me access to many incredible wonders of the world, meeting new people, and everlasting memories.  It was also my most beloved education book.  It took me to places where I could learn new languages, different customs, history and current events.  While I’ve had many passports when growing up to visit my family in Canada, this one was special because it propelled my lifelong dream of traveling around the world.  In the past nine years, I have traveled to far more countries than I have in the first 17 years of my life.

The first stamp gave me access to France in 2006.  I had just graduated from high school.  I was craving to see the life outside of my own homeland.  I had just finished four years of hard work in learning to speak French fluently, and I so badly wanted to put my skills into good use.  After a year of arguing and begging my parents to allow their 19-year old daughter who has barely traveled alone to travel to France, I took off and traveled throughout the country for five weeks (almost) solo.   I stayed with four different host families and communicated solely in French.  I met two of them through a pen pal letter writing project in high school.   I met a holocaust survivor and learned about his life in Auschwitz.  I was introduced to art history when I spent several hours immersing in the Louvre Museum and Musée d’Orsay.  I was introduced to the love of mountains and beaches when my host families took me scenic drives throughout the Basque Region.

As I dreamed and craved for more trips abroad, I took off to Italy a year later and traveled throughout the country for three weeks with my university where I finally saw many art I studied when I was growing up come to life.  The moment I saw David and the painting on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel, I had chills and felt completely more shocked than when I first saw the images in the book.  Seeing the the architecture throughout the country and learning about the process of designing the buildings taught me to appreciate old buildings.  Encountering a massive protest against former President George W. Bush’s visit to Rome taught me the importance of listening to other countries’ views about my home country.  After visiting Italy, I returned to southwest France to see my friends again and soak in the beautiful countryside and beach.


Two days after coming home from Italy and France, I took off again to Israel for a Birthright trip and to meet my paternal grandmother’s family for the very first time in my life.  After years of seeing bombs exploding, fires and blood in Israel in the media, I was astounded by the beautiful life the country has to offer to the world.  I learned that the media does not always present an accurate view of life around the world.  While war exists only in very small parts of the country, life goes on.  Residents go to work, school and enjoy leisure time at the beach and parks.  Israel also taught me that it is acceptable not to be an observant while being Jewish.  Instead of lighting candles on Friday nights and avoiding the use of technology, like many other Israelis, I enjoyed a nightlife in the city.

Several months later, I went back to France during my college winter break to volunteer on a farm in Provence.  While the volunteer opportunity was a huge disappointment as the work camp leader treated me like a Cinderella, and I had to leave abruptly and trek across the country to southwest France without any plans, this trip taught me to go out of my comfort zone.  Because I grew up in a very traditional suburban life, I was taught that taking public transportation is dangerous.   However, this trip changed my view of public transportation as I learned that taking trains were not only safe but also far more convenient than flying.  I also learned to be flexible and that it’s not the end of the world to make last minute changes and not to know what would happen in a few hours or the next few days.

During the summer of 2008, my family and I did our first overseas trip together to Europe.  We first trekked to London and then took a chunnel train to Paris.  Then we went to southwest France so that they could learn about my love for the Basque region and meet my friends.  When my family went back to the US, I stayed in France for another week.  Then I took a 24 hour train ride to Tuscany, an experiences of a lifetime.  I immensely enjoyed seeing colorful homes nestling in the mountains and the beautiful turquoise water  as the train traveled on the coast of south of France and west of Italy.  Then I spent ten days with a family in Tuscany and experiencing their traditional Italian summer life which was going to the beach frequently, enjoying gelato, and visiting villages in the region.  My trip didn’t end there.  I went back to France and stayed with two different host families for a month before starting my semester abroad study in Provence. Waking up at 7 AM every morning to photograph stunning sunrises over the Luberon Mountains, drawing Provencal buildings, and taking field trips during art history classes were the most treasured college experiences.

During the winter break of 2008, I flew across the Pacific Ocean to venture outside of North America and Europe for the first time.  Visiting both Australia and New Zealand showed me that our planet has endless number of incredible wonders to explore and that I should focus on visiting new parts of the world instead of returning to the same places I have visited.  The Great Ocean Road, Sydney Opera House and Fox Glacier were memorable scenes to see.

Because I longed to learn Spanish and I wanted to continue to explore outside of the western world, I ventured to a developing country for the first time, Peru.   I’ll never forget the moment when I walked outside of the airport and got into a taxi in Cusco, I said to myself, “Oh shit.  What have I done to myself?”  I was overwhelmed by seeing how Cusco looked like as if an earthquake had just happened.  I stayed with a host family who only spoke Spanish, and I didn’t know any Spanish.   I learned Spanish quickly so that I could break the barrier of communicating with my host family.  I quickly fell in love with the country as I discovered stunning mountains, beautiful art and historical sites and friendly people.  Developing countries can have their own wonderful treasures.

I loved studying in Provence so much that I went back there to relive my study abroad experience again during the fall semester of my senior year in college.  Prior to returning to Provence, I went to Israel again to see my relatives and then to Thessaloniki, Greece to meet an online friend and see ancient Greek historical sites in Athens.

Because I wanted to experience being an international student and study anthropology, I moved to London for one year in 2010 and pursued a masters in anthropology.  I met people from all over the world who are now my closest friends.  While I studied how humans interact with the society and materials, I also explored what I wanted to do with my future.  I traveled all over the UK via buses and trains and discovered that the US need to improve their public transportation system.

Right after finishing my studies in London, I went to China for two weeks to visit the home of one of my very close friends from grad school.   At this point, because I had years of experiences in seeing very different landscapes around the world, I did not feel overwhelmed and instead, I was too excited to explore how different Haikou, the city where my friend was living, was from other parts of the world,  I remember being so shocked to see well developed buildings and roads, as I expected the landscape of China to look similar to what I saw in Peru since both countries are developing.  Because I unfortunately got sick with food poisoning and needed to change my travel plans so that I could get proper care, I went to Shanghai, which was not on my original travel itinerary, and visited a family friend.  The unfortunate experience of getting sick turned into a positive experience, as my family friend hired my close friend from grad school to work for her company.

Once I finished school, my traveling opportunities became severely restricted, as I had limited number of vacation days.  Because I wanted to continue to explore Latin America, I ventured to Costa Rica in 2012 where I saw stunning waterfalls, beaches and rainforest.

In 2013, I was missing Europe so much, and it had been four years since I visited the mainland Europe.  There was still so much more to explore in Europe.  I took a two weeks trip a to Croatia, Slovenia and Austria.  I know I obsessively talk about how beautiful our planet is, but Croatia and Slovenia did not cease me to say how gorgeous the landscapes were.  I adored seeing the turquoise lakes and oceans, waterfalls and mountains.  Because I loved watching Sound of Music when I was growing up, I so wanted to stop by Salzburg and see where the movie was filmed.  I immensely enjoyed recognizing scenes from the movie everywhere I went in Salzburg.

The very last stamp in my passport was my trip to Canada to see my family last summer.  I look forward to receiving my new passport, and I hope my new passport will continue to unlock many more doors to wonderful destinations around the world and also more opportunities in my life.

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