I have a lot of fears but none relate to traveling and living abroad. As a mother, I think it’s important for my young son to learn that travel is nothing to fear. For me, it was my father who taught me about confronting fears, not just when traveling, but also in life.
My dad, whose name was Jan, was a larger-than-life personality. He burned bright. He had a love for teaching, which he brought to his job as a building inspector and as a yoga instructor. He loved music and he loved to travel. He traveled around Virginia for his job, had been all around the United States and traveled to Europe. He also loved sports and fitness, regularly attended the local gym, coached softball for his church, and often went to Charlottesville, Virginia to watch the University of Virginia Cavaliers football team.
I could always count on my dad to be my horror-movie-watching-yoga-workshop-going-day-trip-travel buddy. He guided me when I wanted to watch R-rated movies, answering my questions and making sure I was okay with the sex and violence splashed on the screen. When one of our favorite yoga teachers traveled to our hometown for a yoga workshop, we were the first to sign up. Dad coached me through doing a handstand, which I still can’t do very well, but at least with him, I could attempt it with a smile.
I began to question my motivations for wanting to go abroad. Wasn’t it selfish?
Best of all, Dad was a great travel buddy. He came with me on a weekend field trip to Washington, D.C. when I was in 6th grade, and he put me in the group he was chaperoning, which got me away from the bullies in my class. He always had my back. On our family trips, from Disney World Florida to Maine, he kept us motivated with trivia and great music. He took us to museums, nature parks, historic sites, and hiking trails, which deepened my love for history and the world around us.
In February 2009, I was preparing to depart for South Korea, where I was going to have my first adventure abroad as an English teacher. Because I would be going away I chose to join Dad on a ski trip to Snowshoe, West Virginia. He occasionally signed up for red-eye ski trips just for fun. I should also mention the fact that I don’t ski, but I just wanted to go and spend time with Dad. It knew it may be one of the last times I could hang out with him before I left to go abroad.
We only skied for a couple of hours. We spent the rest of the time in the lodge where we drank Bailey’s Irish Crème, watched basketball and just talked. I showed him what I was learning about South Korea in a Lonely Planet guidebook. I told him about my excitement and my fears of being in another country, and that I didn’t know what teaching English abroad would do for me personally and professionally. Dad was thoughtful, listened to me, and then told me:
“If you don’t try it, you’ll never know.”
That night on the bus back to Virginia, I listened to music while my dad slept beside me. It was a clear, starry night, and I felt hope and courage about what was coming my way.
I could always count on my dad to be my horror-movie-watching-yoga-workshop-going-day-trip-travel buddy.
Two days later, February 10, 2009, the day I got my visa issuance number for Korea, my father was killed in an accidental fall at his workplace.
Everything changed for my family. It was like having something amputated, a shock to the system. I spent that day trying to keep my family from falling apart, trying to keep myself from falling apart. I knew I couldn’t go to South Korea as planned, so I talked to my recruiter about what happened. Thankfully, they were kind and promised to hold my position for me for a couple of months.
As I stayed home and helped my mom and the rest of our family, I began to question my motivations for wanting to go abroad. Wasn’t it selfish? What if something happened to my mom while I was gone? Gradually, I began to talk myself back into going. When the day came at the end of May 2009, my mom, aunt, and uncle were there to see me off and to give me that final shove of encouragement. Literally and figuratively.
As I walked down the concourse alone, I fought the urge to turn back. Then, I heard my dad’s voice in my head. It wasn’t the first time during the grieving process that I’d heard his voice. He said, “If you don’t try it, you’ll never know.”
So, I boarded the plane. It took me to an unforgettable life experience in another culture, meeting my husband, having a child, building a family life abroad. It led me to other experiences, including the chance to travel to Europe with my husband.
There’s a picture of my dad standing in one of the alleys of Pompeii. He’s smiling and full of life as he always was. What’s haunting about that picture is that there was no one standing around my dad. He was alone in that part of the ruins, with Mount Vesuvius rising in the background. After my dad’s death, I vowed that I would go to Pompeii, find that area of the ruins, and take a picture of myself standing where my dad stood. I made that happen.
I’ve read incredible stories of brave women on their travels. But I must say it was my dad, an incredible man, who helped inspire mine.