I grew up in a really small town in the northern U.S., where cows probably outnumbered people 1,000 to 1 and I, alone, made up 20% of my graduating class. If it weren’t for having our own postal code, we probably would not have even been considered a town at all—more like a rest stop, maybe. Even people who lived in my state had never heard of my hometown. The farthest any of my classmates moved was two states away. Most didn’t move at all. So, how is it that I have spent the last 10 years living in southern Chile, Costa Rica, and now, Mexico?
I had always wanted to see the world, to live in other countries and experience other cultures. Despite my small-town upbringing, I knew the world was a big place, full of diversity and adventure.
My chance to pursue my dream came when I traded in an office job to work on an organic farm in Chile. I had studied Spanish in high school, but wouldn’t have considered myself proficient, or even mediocre, for that matter. But, opportunity knocked, and I started packing!
While in Chile, I began tutoring friends and employees in English. They would help me with my Spanish and I would teach them English. It was my first taste of how I would eventually end up funding my travels in over five different Latin countries and finally teaching full-time in Mexico.
Each new country brought new opportunities to learn about its ancient cultures, experience new foods, and make long and lasting friendships.
In every city and town, one of my favorite places to visit is the local market. For me, the markets are a feast for the eyes. Textile markets, artisan markets, food markets…they are all bursting with color, texture, aroma, and the palpable energy of the Latin culture.
There are still many vendors and buyers alike, wearing colorful, intricately designed traditional dress and speaking in their native languages. The styles, colors, and languages change, but the life in the market is always the same. The air feels alive with the energy and the urgency of exchange. Little children play at the feet of a mother who artfully embroiders a traditional Mexican blouse, or a father who serves up fresh fish tacos. Young and old enliven the markets with their presence, giving visitors a glimpse of everyday life in that country.
But markets are just one small part of life abroad. There are constant opportunities to learn and expand one’s mind, or give back to the locals through teaching English, as I’ve done, or lending a helping hand with community building projects, youth groups, or social programs. The rewards of contributing to a new community bring new purpose to life.
But, relaxing has its own rewards. There’s also ample time to enjoy a game of golf, read a book at the town square, take a traditional cooking class, or learn a new language.
I’ve learned over the past decade that, no matter where my roots were planted, my branches have spread far and wide, and the fruits of my efforts have taught and nourished people of all cultures and walks of life.
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