Letters to Our Younger Selves: Dear Terry
I see you cruising down I-95 in the family station wagon. You're wrestling with Janet and James and crying out, "Are we there yet?" Your parents are in the front seat singing along to Bob Dylan and blocking out the mayhem.
You don't know it now, but this is the start of a life full of adventures. Relax, settle in and enjoy the ride.
Those summer trips to the Outer Banks were your first step into the greater world. For a young girl raised in the privileged suburbs of Washington D.C., North Carolina was a wonderland of beaches that breathed danger and adventure with frothy riptides and tow-headed surfer boys from faraway places like Florida.
But then summer would end and you'd be back in school -- playing the right sports and wearing the right jeans. You play lacrosse and field hockey because that's what girls do if they're not donning a cheerleading uniform, but they weren't your thing.
Keep following the ocean and doing what you love. Eventually you will find your true passion while snorkeling in the Florida Keys. You'll tell yourself that someday you'll learn to scuba dive so you can swim with sharks. And you will.
Your parents will take you to Germany and Switzerland one summer. You'll see snails in the Alps the size of your palm, feed swans in a Swiss lake and happily gobble Wienerschnitzel for dinner every night.
The world will open up wider.
Then you'll be back to hitting the best parties in high school while trying to keep up your grades so you can get into a "good school." You love Spanish class, and you're good at it! Keep studying. Someday you will learn languages much more efficiently, in the places they're spoken -- you'll venture to Morocco to study Arabic and stay a while in Toulouse to learn French. You'll live with host families and realize the best lessons in life and language take place beyond the classroom's walls.
Geography class will fill you with angst (only physics is worse). If you get a B or a C, will you still be able to get into your first-choice college? Try not to stress so much about your grades and memorizing places on maps. Someday you will live the ideas and places you're only seeing on paper right now. You won't truly understand how the world's countries are connected until you travel through them -- like on the road trip you'll take from Florida through Mexico and Central America to the very edge of the Panama Canal.
In college, you'll have to make some big decisions: do you study something you're passionate about, like languages and cultural anthropology, or do you listen to the voices urging you to major in something with more marketable job prospects?
Be true to yourself and study what you love. Heck, consider taking a year off to travel before you apply to college -- in the UK they call it a "gap year."
If you're unsure of what you want to do, go out in the world. Volunteer in Africa or teach English in Asia. You'll get to know your interests and what you're capable of far better than by diving headfirst into a small-town America college party scene.
As for strangers, don't talk to them. Talk with them, anywhere you meet them, and don't be afraid to go deep. Don't let a fear of the unknown close you off. On the streets of Vietnam, you will be invited into a family home, and you will go because you've learned to trust random encounters. You will drink rice wine with people you just met, you will rock a random baby, and you will learn about lives different from your own. You will meet someone on an airplane with whom you will share a hotel room because that's what travelers do. You will make friends all over the world just because you are open to doing so.
And one day, whatever your geography and physics grades were, you will get a good job, one with "benefits" that delight your parents but feels like a prison sentence to you. A wild-haired, wild-hearted surfer boy you've fallen in love with, from exotic Florida no less, will come up with a better plan for getting some life and work experience. He will give you the courage you were looking for to try a different path. You'll fear telling your boss that you're leaving when he's just promoted you. But you'll abandon the corner office and all the security that comes with it to make the world your classroom. You'll go freelance, and you'll earn less but learn more.
And when you leave, your boss and your parents will give you all their support. After all, they're older and wiser. Your going-away gift will be the Dr. Seuss book that says it all: "Oh the Places You'll Go." And you will.
In sharing this story, and others, we hope you are inspired to Raise Your Hand for girls' education, helping us spread the word on this crucial effort.
Based in Florida, freelance travel writer Terry Ward spends roughly half the year on the road. Her favorite travel destinations are Norway, France, Bali and Morocco. She recently made her first ocean crossing on barbaadventures.no and her dream is to someday sail around the world. Visit her website, terryward.com.