There are two kinds of people in the world: those who travel and those who don’t.
Before you decide that this statement is pretentious and offensive, hear me out. I am fully aware that travel is not an option for many people because it is expensive and necessitates time and commitment (read: luxuries). I’m referring to those folks who could make the choice to leave our geo-political borders and experience the vast world beyond, but don’t.
I’ve been extremely lucky to have been given the taste of travel at a young age (I am, after all, a Navy brat). However, I chose to pursue it more during undergrad (think: year abroad, international internship). Returning after that first year on my own abroad, I felt like a foreigner in this place I’d always called home. This was profoundly confusing. No one had told me about reverse culture shock and it hit me hard. So hard, in fact, that I chose to leave again by going to graduate school abroad (note: grad school abroad can produce less economic hardship than grad school here in the U.S.). Add some international volunteer stints and some free-range travel with a backpack and I’ve gotten myself to some 35 countries on 4 continents by now.
Except that now I’m of the age where the Responsibilities Of Life get more serious, discouraging me from being the roving soul struck with a bad bought of wanderlust that I was during my 20’s. Yes, you can argue that if I really committed myself and saved money I could embark on another journey equal to my previous adventures, but with age comes – for better or for worse – a shift in priorities. I’d have to drive a harder bargain now, give up more now, to do what I did then.
So what’s a girl to do? How to balance an upwardly mobile career, marriage and mortgage with the deep longing to remain connected to ‘the international’? Besides writing about international issues, volunteering with globally oriented NGOs and jumping into a plane as often as I can while staying within the confines of vacation days permitted in the US?
Bring the international, local, by becoming respite foster parents to refugee and immigrant youth. The foster system is in critical need of families to take in children and youth and we have decided to work with an agency that is only 1 of 2 agencies that bring in youth from refugee camps around the world. In January 2012 we received our license and have been able to welcome several different young people, from Guatemala, Eritrea, Mexico, and Congo, into our home for weekends at a time. Tomorrow a youth from China will stay with us for the next several days.
It’s not getting to wake up in a new place and feel the tingle of excitement for a day beckoning with discoveries of ancient architecture, deep history, interesting foods, or connections with locals. It is a chance to help a young person new to our culture get better acquainted with it. As someone who has, myself, faced the challenges of living in different countries, I now have a chance in ‘my country’ to make them feel a little more at home which is, nonetheless, an adventure.