Living in a small town can limit the perspective of one’s mind, leaving one to believe that hardly anything exists beyond the borders of one’s town. Old Saybrook is a town that I love; filled with beaches and restaurants, a quaint Main Street and green parks, it is quintessential Smalltown, New England. But in addition to its charm, growing up in Saybrook has had its challenges. Now, I’m not talking inner-city slum challenges, but as challenging as growing up in upper middle class suburbia can get. A lack of cultural experience and awareness seems to permeate my town of Old Saybrook, leaving the kids of this small town with little knowledge of what the world truly has to offer.
Being confined to a community with an area of 15 square miles has left me with a desire to see what lies beyond the borders of Old Saybrook. It began the summer before ninth grade when I took a trip to Europe through the program People to People. I, along with 44 other teens, traveled from the beaches of Greece, through the countryside of Italy, up to the center of France. This three-week-long complete immersion into travel and the European way of life left me thirsty for more. In the years that followed, my desire slowly morphed and developed, grew and transformed into a need, an obsession. I plastered my walls with pictures of the architecture of Rome and the beaches of Brazil. I spent hours on my computer searching for more opportunities to travel—counting my pennies, calculating how long until I could dive into another culture. I became committed to learning new languages, taking French in school and scrounging the library for audiotapes that could teach me a new language. And after a failed attempt at mastering the difficult accents used in German and Russian, I realized that it would be years before I could truly escape this small town.
My calling came sophomore year when another international travel program entered my radar. Walking Tree Travel presented to my French III class one of its programs: a trip to Senegal. I, however, was entranced by the Costa Rican trip, Walking Tree’s fledgling trip. I immediately signed up and four months later, armed with a borrowed Spanish I textbook, I was in Costa Rica. While I spent two weeks cliff diving, hiking, and zip lining, my 14 companions and I spent two weeks living and working with the inhabitants of Las Brisas. Las Brisas has a whopping population of 500—that’s a small town! My life began to revolve around life and work in Las Brisas. I would wake up every morning and walk a mile to the school where we were building a new support wall and mixing cement by hand for hours before being refreshed by a hot cup of coffee. The physical requirements of building a seven-foot high cement wall are extensive, but the rewards were even greater. I made new friends with the Las Brisas natives, began learning a new language, and really connected with the dozens of individual personalities and relationships that existed in this small farm town. Everyone had their own stories to tell and dreams to share, from the littlest chica to the oldest hombre. I gained so much more insight into culture in my two weeks in Las Brisas than I ever expected. They come from a different world than I do, but we share so many similarities! They like watching TV and playing sports. Others love traveling to see the wonders their small country has to offer. Some even love texting and, like me, some dream to escape their small town and see the world. And while living and working with the warm-hearted people of Las Brisas, I realized that it’s not the size of the town but the hopes and dreams of those in it that really determines the life they will lead.
While Saybrook gets quite boring in the dead of winter, growing up in what I thought was a “small” town has given me the perfect launch pad to make my life whatever I want it to be. My experiences in Europe and Costa Rica have given my life purpose and focus. I study hard in French and now take Spanish as well to build a foundation of knowledge that I hope will grow during and after college. I’ve made amazing international connections and friendships that I know I will keep for my whole life. These friendships have changed my perspective of humans and cultural differences as a whole. My interest in travel and foreign cultures has grown from a desire to an obsession to a virtual need for new experiences and relationships. I hope to fulfill this need in college and my career after, traveling and meeting new people and working to build a better world. But now, as I mature, I know that I will not forget the small shoreline town that I dreamed of leaving, knowing that one day, I will dream of returning.
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