I moved to Costa Rica with my older brother for the summer when I was 15 years old. I always said that somewhere in that exotic rain forest, I got bitten by the travel bug. I returned with a fever to see the world, to experience different cultures. The next 10 years of my life were spent chasing down international adventures. From Patagonia in Argentina to the monkey-rich jungles of Central America to China's inundated streets and Egyptian wonders; I've spent a third of my life soaking up global glitter.
Now, I find myself traveling in a new country with a different language and the best paella I’ve ever had. I was at dinner recently with six other couples feasting at a beautiful restaurant in Spain and halfway through dinner I realized that five different languages were being spoken across the table, including English, Spanish, Serbian, Czech, and a splash of German. It was the diversity of the group that inspired me the most because we all came to the table (both figuratively and literally) from completely different contexts. From the clothes we wore to our religious affiliations to our eating habits; we all had something profound to learn from one another.
That moment emphasized the importance of why we ask our I AM THAT GIRL local chapter leaders to reach outside of their comfort zones and include girls from all walks of life. It's easy to surround yourself with people who see the world the same way you do, dress the same, talk the same, pray the same, and vote the same. It's also easy to get comfortable in life and stop being challenged on a regular basis and in that space I think we not only get lazy, we start to get boring.
How do we know what we stand for if someone doesn’t challenge us? How do we keep our mind strong when we’re not using it? How do we reexamine our morals, our personal constitution, our priorities, and our boundaries if we’re not asked to define and discuss them? It’s easy to mindlessly do something a certain way or adopt a way of being when nobody suggests there's an alternative. Sometimes I’m grateful when there’s a roadblock because it forces me to find another route home, sometimes one that's faster or better.
As I sat around that table, my mind was racing to translate Spanish and I was inspired to understand our political structure better as I was barraged with questions I couldn’t answer. My personal beliefs on what it means to be a woman were challenged by cultures who view our “role” very differently and I was encouraged to learn more about countries that were never on my radar before. While I may not have agreed with every foreign opinion at that table, I was reminded that how I choose to live life is but one person’s perspective and, more importantly, I can choose at any moment to change how I go about living on a regular basis.
So, my challenge to you and to myself is to never stop growing, never stop learning, and never stop challenging ourselves. The beauty of this life is that we get to choose who we want to be every day. Seek out new friends who see the world differently from you and watch the interesting impact you have on one another. I think we'll realize that we are far more alike than we’ll ever be apart and we have so much to learn from each other when we open our hearts and our minds.
Images courtesy of Lifehack.org, Optify.net