If you want to feel good about America, the current college generation, and why we can applaud curious minds with lofty goals read the following 2-minute article. Might grab that Kleenex beforehand. Each year, The New York Times invites essayists to forward their work to the newspaper after they’ve submitted their thoughts on money, work, social class, and related matters as part of their college applications. At their best, they inspire a kind of empathy, even if money is not on your mind all that often. While reading the paper in the glorious sunshine Sunday this was the article that made the day warmer, brighter, and better.
Let us meet Griffin Ayson, from Los Angeles.…..”Travel costs may prove too great a financial strain for my parents, but my world map and ingenuity are free.”
“The room was stuffy, cramped and packed with teenagers. I was about to embark on a new adventure — my first job. I made sure I brought everything listed on the required materials list: Social Security card, passport, student ID, work permit.
As I waited for the human resources personnel to call my name, I gingerly opened my passport. A glance at the photo taken when I was 12 brought a big smile to my face: Chubby cheeks. Bowl cut hair. Forced smile. My jolly mood quickly faded when I read the expiration date: 03 Jan 2022. As I flipped through, each page was blank. My heart felt empty.
I tried to shake off the sadness dominating my thoughts. I should not have been bothered by my empty passport or its pending expiration date. But I was. It was a painful reminder that I had never left the country, not once in my entire life.
I remained quiet even as my mom repeatedly asked how my job orientation went. My replies were a mere yes or no. But when we got home, I held up my passport and finally dared to ask her. She looked at me and responded: “I’m sorry, but we can’t afford it. Airfares alone for a family of five would cost an arm and a leg.” Her quavering voice said it all. I walked away, empty. My passport was for “just in case,” not “when.”
When I spend time with Grandma, I am greeted by her cabinet full of cherished souvenirs. Some mark her 90 years on earth, others Grandpa’s travels as a merchant marine. Admiring the elephant tusk from India, brass plates from Morocco and hand-carved Last Supper wall hanging from Italy, I often wondered what it was like to travel the world just like Grandpa did.
Today, I catch myself looking back at those visits at Grandma’s and realizing I don’t need to leave my beloved city — Los Angeles — to experience the world. I satisfy my wanderlust by feasting on hearty, delicious global cuisines here in my neighborhood. Couscous from Morocco. Vindaloo from India. Gelato from Italy. Each is a small marker of my city’s diverse population and the perspectives and experiences surrounding me.
The first and last thing I see from my bed is my vast world map from Ikea, occupying almost an entire wall. This map has been my constant travel companion since I was little. Beginning with Dad’s stories about his business travels early in his career, this map has taken me to the countries he toured and locals he befriended from Belgium to South Korea to Indonesia.
Through Google Earth’s lens, I’m able to transport myself to any far-flung places without leaving the comfort of my bedroom. I have explored the Philippines, where my mother was born and raised. Her accounts of her upbringing fascinated me growing up, the tropical climate a drastic change from L.A.’s dry, sunny summers. When I showed her the schools she attended, the church where she and her family worshiped every Sunday, and the empty land where her house once stood, she was delighted. I was, too.
I don’t need to set foot in an airport to know every country, city and capital in the world. The knowledge I amassed, from the map in my bedroom to virtual tours, has taught me that not traveling outside my birth country will not define who I am. I pull what I can from my surroundings, whether wandering my neighborhood or following the virtual tour of the Louvre’s Petite Galerie exhibition of founding myths. And there are dozens of UNESCO sites still to see.
I am a globe-trotter. Travel costs may prove too great a financial strain for my parents, but my world map and ingenuity are free. So while my passport pages are empty, my limitless adventures are being vividly stamped in my mind forever.”
Yeah, I told you to get a tissue.