Growing Up, Growing Scared

July 29, 2010 50 Comments »

I had all the kids stand up and one by one they sat down…

“If you haven’t been outside of Lincoln, Nebraska – sit down.” I stated.
Everyone remained standing…phew.
“If you haven’t been outside of Nebraska – sit down.”
I lost a couple.
“If you haven’t been outside the United States – sit down.”
They started dropping off rapidly now.
“If you haven’t been outside of North America – sit down.”
There were a meager 4 students left in my nieces 6th grade class of 60.

This is how I started my presentation to the 6th graders at my niece’s school. This wasn’t to embarrass anyone.  Instead I then went on to tell them I had been to 34 countries and the first time I ever went out of North America was when I was 30 years old. Clearly, they had time to build up their travel resume; but I wanted to provide some inspiration to do so.

Letters of Thanks

I passed around my passport so they could all see what one looked like; they flipped through it eagerly.   I went on to give a photography and activity-laden Power Point presentation about 3 countries I had been to: Vietnam, Nepal, and Mongolia. I compared the countries on their food, transportation, and school/family/home life. At the end, the class had to vote where they’d rather be an exchange student.

Giving this presentation was one of the most ‘non-travel’ rewarding things I did this year. The kids loved it, and I loved teaching them about parts of the world they had never heard of and leaving an impression on them that would fuel their travel desires as students and adults.

I was thrilled when I received a standing ovation at the end and kids came to talk to me in the hall about how much they liked my travel presentation. But the real treat came when I received a package from the teachers with 60 hand-written thank you notes.

I sat up late into the night, as I couldn’t put them down. They were rewarding, funny, and passionate; and peppered with many spelling mistakes. All the notes were brightly colored with stars and rainbows; it reminded me of what it was like to be a kid again.

Some of my favorite excerpts were (I left in the spelling errors for authenticity):

“During that one hour that you were there we learned alot more geography then we were taught the whole year, no joke!”
“I also thought it was pretty cool that you just quit your job to do what you wanted to do. I think that would be fun but challenging to do.”
“You inspired me to do what I like to do, instead of what makes money. Well, you make money but not as much.”
“I think I want to be a nomad to.”
“I never thought that you were a nomad because you have nice clothes and stuff.”
“You are so courageous!”

These were lovely compliments – however my thoughts really lingered on sentences like these:

“I would have liked to live in Vietnam the most. It definally looked like a lot of fun with those motorbikes!”…”and what about them holding all those things on their bikes? If I could do that I’d love it so much.”
“It sounds like fun to try all kinds of different food.”
“I like that they ride motorbikes even though there aren’t any rules.”
“It would be so interesting to visit 34 countries. The beautiful sno-capped mountains in Nepal, the flat, sandy plaines in Mongolia would be so cool to see!”
“Was it fun to have a motorbike? I think it looks really fun to have one.”
“I think it is awesome that you got to live in Vietnam.”
“I think it would be fun to try a whole new lifestyle every day!”
“I think it would be awesome with no traffic laws.”
“It is cool, but gross how you had to eat a rat! But that’s really cool!”

I lingered on the use of words like “awesome”, “cool”, and “fun”. Yes, they screamed youth in all of its glory; but they also made me think about how most kids are fearless. I thought about the comments I would have received if I had given this same presentation to my old work colleagues. I don’t think they would have unanimously thought it was cool and exciting to ride motorbike in chaotic traffic in Vietnam; or eat rat; or live with nomads in the Gobi Desert.

When did life stop being fun and start being scary? Is there a magic age where we start to worry? Where we start to conform? Where we start to be fearful of things that are different instead of embracing them?

I don’t have the answers, but I know that somewhere along the way to adulthood we change; we become scared.

As adults we look before we leap, and kids just leap. My nieces jumped into their swimming pool when it was 65 degrees for the fun and love of swimming. As an adult – who out there would do that?

The whole experience reminded me of why I love to travel and do what I do. I want to bring you another view of the world and hopefully show you that it’s not as scary as you think. I want us all to try to embrace youthful attitude again; be fearless, be open-minded.

Back when I had a home with furniture, I used to have a magnet on my fridge that said “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Try it – it may take hold. It may make you feel like a kid again.

The experience also reminded me of why I love spell-check functionality too! I had to include this one comment from a student as it had me double-over, laughing out loud. I laughed so hard, I felt like I was 11 again!

The teacher even thought it was funny…

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