It might sound romantic or predeterminate to say that the adventure was always calling me. It took me 25 years to finally listen.
One trait that has always defined me, for better or worse, was my sense of curiosity. As a child and a teen it got me into my share of trouble, and partly because of that, at some point I learned to tune it down. I went on doing what was “normal”, I found a job and had a home. I was doing what others had defined for me as “the American dream” or whatever that is. But it just was not fulfilling for me. I was left wanting something different, but I didn’t know what it was, nor how to achieve what I could not define.
Then in 2008 change occurred. The world was entering a recession. Suddenly so many others who had worked very hard for their dream were losing it. The institutions that were supposed to represent stability and the status quo were to blame for the crisis. It was in that context that I moved, changed jobs, and decided to go back to school.
School was a great opportunity to pique that once lively sense of curiosity. I changed majors several times and took a wide variety of electives trying to find what would satisfy me. I thought I had it figured out until one summer I signed up for a Spanish class. Through reading about other cultures and beginning to view the world through a different lens it started to become clear. Finally I discovered my purpose in an unexpected way. In one class we watched the film The Motorcycle Diaries, a travel epic of Che Guevara’s youthful voyage of self-discovery through South America. That was it. Something clicked inside.
The profound effect that a foreign film had on an impressionable mind was no minute detail. I knew I wanted to travel. Now that I had a new direction, I also had a problem. I needed to finish my education, it was a promise that I had made to my mom. I rectified this dilemma by finding a way to do both, continue my education and travel. I decided to change my major once again. This time to international business, which would require me to study abroad and allow me to obtain scholarships to do exactly that.
I know what you are thinking… that’s right, Che Guevara, Cuban revolutionary leader and proponent of Marxist socialism, somehow influenced me to pursue free enterprise studies within the educational system of an imperialistic country. He should be rolling over in his grave right about now. But I did it, and it was the beginning of a tipping point for me.
At my university, international business was multifaceted liberal arts major. As I continued with my studies I noticed a clear pattern. I was enthralled and engaged in Latin American History, Spanish and other cultural classes. On the contrary I felt like an outsider in courses like International Finance and Global Marketing. I pushed on in any case until the watershed moment arrived, my semester abroad.
While most of my peers were preparing to head off to Spain, I chose to study in Guayaquil, Ecuador. I was the only foreign student in my university, and quite possibly the entire city for that matter. I lived with Ecuadorians, most of whom only spoke limited English, thereby forcing me to improve my Spanish. I also began to see different world views, although I might not have processed it at the time.
The other great thing about living in a country like Ecuador was that it was really easy to travel. A bus ride to any part of the country seldom was longer than 8 hours and was also very cheap. Each weekend I traveled to the various regions of one of the world’s most bio-diverse countries. I was amazed by the natural wonders and warm people I encountered in one of South America’s most underrated countries. While it was rewarding, I of course also had to overcome obstacles. In doing so, I had found a new sense of self-awareness and self-confidence. More importantly I had found new meaning and purpose.
Sadly, after eight amazing months I had to say goodbye to my new friends and I returned home. I was not prepared for the how difficult that transition would be. The culture shock I experienced after returning to my own country was much more profound than that which I had experienced upon arrival to a once unknown land. Bizarrely, everything was as it was before I had left. But one thing had changed, myself.
My difficult homecoming only enforced the idea that my experience in Ecuador was far more than a passing phase. I hungered for a chance to return. I still had to complete my studies, and one requisite that I had not yet completed was an internship. I decided that I would look for an opportunity once again in South America.
I found such a chance in a different part of the continent. I found a chance to work with a tourism startup company based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I leapt at the opportunity.
Buenos Aires was very different from Ecuador, but no less fascinating. The internship was supposed to last three months, but from the second day that I was in the city, I could tell that it wouldn’t be enough time. I worked hard to try to show that I could carry my weight and be a valuable asset to the firm. My hope was that my efforts would secure me a paying position, the safety net that I needed to stay in South America.
This hope to stay permanently intensified one night while traveling, when I crossed paths with a beautiful girl. On a chance occurrence I met the woman who became my partner and most important tie to the country. This only further reinforced the idea that my place was supposed to be in Argentina.
I was later offered a real paying job and I very happily made Buenos Aires my new home. This was the new beginning I had unknowingly been searching for many years before, when I chose not to conform to other’s expectations. This choice allowed me to experience another culture from the inside, being able to truly appreciate it. Also living in Argentina made it possible for me to travel throughout Latin America, pursuing my true passion.
I have lived in Argentina for four years and they have been the most rewarding years of my life. I’m not trying to say that my experiences living in a different culture have made me perfect, but I think that they have forced me to improve myself through adaptation. A sort of Darwinian Existentialism I suppose. Today the values that I endorse are far less materialistic than they once were and my lifestyle is much healthier. Today what is truly important to me are intangibles: tolerance, sustainability, compassion, open-mindedness, friendship, and of course love.
So have I finally found what ever it is that I have been looking for? Well yes and no. Finding your true passion is not easy, maintaining it perpetually is nearly impossible. I believe that passion itself implies a sort of cyclical madness that needs to be extinguished on occasion so that it can then be set ablaze once again. However I believe that I have found the courage to ignite that passion when it has been dormant for too long.
A wise man once said, “Let the world change you, and you can change the world.” So that’s where I am today, trying to let the world change me, with hopes that someday I too can make a difference. Sounds naive and idealistic, right? Well of course, but who has ever made a difference by playing it safe?