Archive for September, 2010

This trip was a pure gift.  My good friend Miki (originally from Dubuque but living in Boston) organized the travel program for ArtsBoston at the time.  She invited me along on an all-inclusive safari to Kenya provided I help with the group arrangements once there.  It was fantastic in every way, the majestic wild animals in the Masai Mara and Serengeti wowed me.  I loved being with Miki and met many wonderful people on the trip.

My first excursion to foreign lands as an independent traveler without the structure and support of a cultural or educational program. It was thrilling and I was free, camping on beaches, climbing peaks, eating exotic and filling foods. Every moment amazed me: everywhere monkeys, music, mountains, beaches and birds, friends and flowers.

Tarjeta de estudiante

I spent my junior year in Madrid as part of Wesleyan University’s study abroad program. I was a young man in Europe, establishing a life in a new continent, loving the beautiful language and culture and sensuality of Spain. My experience was overwhelmingly positive but I often felt alone in Madrid, lost perhaps in a bustling metropolis in a foreign land, but each day I discovered new things about myself and my confidence grew steadily.

Change was in the European air: Spain was progressing at breakneck speed a mere decade after Franco’s despotic fascism loosed its death grip on democracy, the culture and economy a whirlwind. The Maastricht Treaty was in the works, promising full European Union economic integration. The Iron Curtain was crumbling, mass migrations were straining every border. There was war in Iraq, US fighter jets landing at Torrejón Air Base and tanks on the streets of Madrid. In the spring I suffered the most extreme personal tragedy I had known. I was on the move constantly, visiting every corner of the Iberian Peninsula and much of the Continent. I was restless, emotionally and intellectually hungry, and my identity was changing too; in Madrid I found enormous courage to finally accept my sexuality. I came home from Spain stronger, grown.

I have returned to Spain countless times since that first year. While it continues to change, Madrid always feels like home.

Playing the role of Uruguayan gaucho ~ Drinking yerba maté, the ubiquitous Southern Cone tea-like treat

Playing the role of Uruguayan gaucho ~ Drinking yerba mate, Uruguay’s ubiquitous tea-like treat

I was exceedingly lucky be selected by my high school as an exchange student to Minas, Uruguay during my junior year.  Words cannot describe the excitement, the challenge, the thrill, and the difficulty I experienced leaving one world and arriving in another.  I returned from Uruguay with new vision, the world in an instant larger, compelling, irresistible.  I was ready for more, lots more.

This experience was the defining moment of my teenage years, rooting my wanderlust, and opening my eyes and heart to the Great Out There.  Uruguay is forever a part of my soul, my love for my family there and the exhilarating yet poignant memories I hold close to my heart.

My warm & wonderful adoptive Uruguayan family (clockwise from top left): Mamá Lilián, sis Alejandra, bro Jorge, sis Analía

My warm & wonderful adoptive Uruguayan family (clockwise from top left):
Mamá Lilián, sis Alejandra, bro Jorge, sis Analía

In the classroom at the Instituto Eduardo Fabini in Minas

In the classroom at the Instituto Eduardo Fabini in Minas

With my Norwegian AFS friend Anne at the Plaza Libertad in Minas

With my Norwegian AFS friend Anne at the Plaza Libertad in Minas

"The return of kidnapped children depends also on you... your signature decides" ~ Sign supporting a referendum to bring the military leaders to trial following a repressive dictatorship that ended in 1985

The return of kidnapped children depends also on you… YOUR SIGNATURE DECIDES
Sign supporting a referendum to bring the military leaders to trial following a repressive dictatorship that ended in 1985

A more formal moment with my family before a fiesta de quinceañera birthday bash

A more formal moment with my family before a fiesta de quinceañera birthday bash

This is how I remember my family — all love and warmth!

This is how I remember my family — all love and warmth!

My mother moved to the Boston area after my first year of high school and I happily spent my summers and holidays in New England.  Mom was great about taking full advantage of the region’s culture and history, it was wonderful introduction to living elsewhere.  Despite sharing a larger national identity, there are distinct differences between the Midwest and New England.  I discovered new friends, new ways of talking and interacting, found new things to learn and new landscapes to explore.