Free At Last

Free At Last

This small excerpt from my forthcoming book, Free At Last: Live, Love, and Work Abroad as a 21st Century Global Citizen comes from Chapter 1: Bringing the World to You.

When I was firmly planted in my hometown of Swansea, Massachusetts for the better part of 18 years, I used to scan for opportunities to interact with anyone just a little bit different.

This meant hanging out with the one Jehovah’s Witness girl in a town mostly full of Catholics when I was in first grade, despite the fact that her well-meaning family also spent the next few years trying to convert me whenever I came over. (My parents didn’t catch on for another three years when I started talking about saving them, quoting Bible passages, and making plans for Armageddon.)

In the third grade it meant eating linguica, chourico and peppers, and the most delicious but unhealthy French fries at my best friend’s kitchen table cooked by her Azorean Portuguese immigrant mom who liked to say, “Kristen! You too skinny. You eat. You eat!”

Back then she was not well integrated into American society yet and spent her days dusting every square inch of their home, cooking the most aromatic food, and camping out in front of their kitchen television, always set permanently to the Portuguese channel. She did however succeed at fattening me up just a bit though!

And at age twelve it meant playing the trumpet and French horn (before I got braces) and joining my best friend, her brother, and their father in the local Portuguese marching band, Our Lady of Light (Banda Nossa Senhora da Luz) in Fall River, Massachusetts.

We, the handful of children in the band, would practice on Saturday nights in a smoky Portuguese Club adjoining a bar that had strange pickled eggs in jars on shelves while men drank beer and played cards, hiding away from their wives until the wee hours of the night.

During the summers we would play and march all over Southeastern New England, stepping over rose petals and flowers during religious processions and delighting the crowd from bandstands and gazebos during the Sunday Feasts. I was the only person in the band who couldn’t actually speak Portuguese, but somehow through the universal language of music I was able to communicate anyway. Adults in the band who couldn’t wrap their minds around my Italian last name would call me Kristen “Panala,” panala being the Portuguese word for frying pan.

In high school it was embarrassing myself by harassing the former East German exchange student with my rudimentary, bad World War 2 movie-style German vocabulary and everyday expressions barked like orders given in Hitler’s underground bunker. (Cringe. I somehow thought she’d be amused.) It was also taking her up to Boston with friends to do a bit of sightseeing as the local guide to help enrich HER horizons as well.

When I finally got to study in Boston at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, (still too close to Swansea for my taste at the time,) it meant hanging around with the foreign students and even becoming roommates just to somehow experience secondhand the cultures of Mexico, Holland, Turkey, Japan, Greece, Italy, and South Korea.

It meant trying not to get too discouraged at age 19 that my college didn’t yet have a study abroad program. I dreamed of studying in London but had to settle for a semester in Los Angeles instead which despite being in the same country, turned out to be a whole other planet all together!

So those were some of my coping mechanisms from a childhood and early adulthood spent pining for international adventures of my own. Let’s talk about what else can be done when your feet are firmly planted at home: 8 Easy Ways to Experience the World From the Comfort of Home

Free At Last: Live, Love, and Work Abroad as a 21st Century Global Citizen is a book about becoming a more aware, globally-minded person. Whether you are firmly planted in your familiar hometown or are already making plans for your exotic wedding in India next December, our goal is to help you connect with this great and wonderful world that we share with 7 billion+ others in your own way, in your own time, and at your own pace.

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