by Seneca Petry
I met a host of incredible people during my year abroad. Strangers who welcomed me – a foreigner with no voice or connection to the local community — with open arms into their homes and their lives. These people shared so much with me, more than I could ever recount in a blog post, but one lesson stuck with me more than the rest: that there’s no singular path, no one way to go about life. Now this lesson is applicable on many levels, part of the reason why it has resonated with me so much. It applies to a single decision, an opportunity, or musings about the more distant future.
The first person who helped me learn this lesson was a Russian friend names Yana who I met at my apprenticeship in Brazil. She had recently finished four years of university in China, and was traveling throughout Latin America, picking up work from place to place as she taught online English classes and saught to learn the native languages. I really admired this lifestyle, as hectic as it appeared. She had left behind everything familiar to her, and was just playing things by ear, living day to day. We love to romanticize the idea of truly living in the moment, and in my eyes she embodied that ideal more than anyone I had ever met.
The second person to help teach me this lesson was my host father, Giulianno. He had never felt particularly comfortable in a traditional academic setting, and did not finish college. In the community I had grown up in, this was unheard of. I thought that only geniuses like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates could drop out of college and live a satisfying and enriching life. But no, Giulianno is one of the most genuinely content, comfortable people I’ve ever met. He does mainly mechanical work and takes care of the house, while my host mom logs long hours at a beauty parlor.
I also found these qualities in my grandfather. I only recently took the initiative to delve more into his past. He was a member of the Merchant Marines and traveled the world on merchant vessels for the beginning of his post-undergraduate life. He attended Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, and the financial burden he avoided with this free education allowed him to be considerably more flexible afterwards.
As I pass this piece of writing off to my mom for her thoughts, I can only imagine what is going through her mind. No mom, this doesn’t mean that I want to travel the world without a real job, that I want to drop out of college and do mechanical work, that I want to join the military and travel on merchant ships. But it is relieving for me to know that these options are out there. It gives me a real peace of mind in our society, which puts far too much pressure on far too young people to be certain about their futures. I don’t consider everyone’s story as a real possibility for myself, but as I meet more people and learn of their unique paths, it helps to quell the anxiety I feel about my own future, knowing that there are ample routes.