Travel, Grow, and Keep Running

Nicholas Chieng - Brazil


September 17, 2014

You might have clicked the link in your email update wanting to read about my latest adventure in Brazil from trying new foods to talking to random strangers on the bus. That will come in a later blog post. For now, here’s what’s been going on internally:

Today, our team leaders had all the Fellows individually take 20 minutes and prepare a two minute speak up on what we think our vision for Global Citizen Year is.

Two minutes to talk about eight months? How was I supposed to do that? I can’t even speak in front of a group of people without my palms sweating, and now they want me to do some public speaking? But this year, I am practicing stepping out my comfort zone. No time? No problem.

I pulled out my tiny notebook I bought from the 1.99 Real store (Brazilian version of a Dollar Tree), and I wrote “I want to gain everlasting relations with other Fellows and members of my communities” and other reasons I decided to pursue Global Citizen Year. However, it felt as if I was jotting down the “correct” answers that I was supposed to say rather than how I truly felt. But how did I truly feel? I didn’t know how to articulate it.

Time’s up. I looked at my notebook and quickly reread what I had written down. I am the 5th out of 6 to speak. I start by taking my newly bought Havaianas off and walking a bit closer to the entire group. I looked back at my notebook for a split second, closed it, and explained that I wanted to change the world. Our world. That’s my big vision for my Global Citizen Year. Perhaps I’m not going to change the world by joining this program, but it’s most definitely a step in the right direction.

After my speak up, I sat back down, and I thought about my past travels both domestic and abroad through scholarship programs, cheap bus services, and crashing at friends’ houses. I’d see the world, try new food, meet new people, fall in love, learn bits of a language and culture –then it’s all over. We often talk about leaving, but what about the journey home?

We talk about the hardest parts when we’re away from home—making new friends, worrying about my Portuguese accent, misreading people—but these are parts of my travels I get through eventually. Those lows are masked by the complete highs I experience. Sure, the goodbyes are difficult but I know they’re going to come, especially when you start packing the day before. I return home, hug my family and friends, tear up a bit, tell stories, catch up over coffee, etc.

I’m happy that everyone is doing well and found new jobs,  but part of me is screaming don’t you understand how much I have changed? By that, I don’t mean my hair, the way I dress,  or anything that has to do with my physical appearance. I want you to understand what’s going on inside: the way my dreams have changed, the way I perceive people differently, the habits I’m glad I lost, new ideas that are now central to my life. I want everyone to recognize this; I want to share and discuss it, but there are no words to describe how my spirit has evolved. There are no words to describe how I force my brain to be used in a capacity other than school. I think differently because I experience it every second of every day of every month.

It’s in these moments where I feel like it maybe wasn’t exactly worth it because nothing has changed but at the same time, I feel like it’s the only thing I’ve done that was life changing. .

Perhaps this is why I’m back at it again. Perhaps this is why I am here sitting in Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil snacking on some pao de queijo and sipping suco de laranja. To paraphrase Kellie Donnelly from Thought Catalog, I want to be around people that speak the same language as me. Not English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, or Portuguese, but that language where others know what it’s like to leave, change, grow, experience, learn and go home and feel more lost in their hometown than they did in the most foreign place they visited.

Nicholas Chieng