Leaving a Little Bit of My Dust Behind – From Normandy to Madrid
During the summer of 1998, I was selected to study in Normandy, France for a study abroad program from Texas A&M University. I was so excited before my trip that I couldn’t think straight. However, being a newbie to international travel, I stressed about everything from luggage, cloths, camera, and money. I thought Europe would be one big summer of partying and girls. I was so ignorant of the gems I would see and the people I would meet. That all changed at Omaha Beach. Shortly before Saving Private Ryan was released in theaters, I was walking the beaches of Normandy with my professors and fellow classmates learning about what had happened during World War II and why. The tipping point was standing in the drizzling rain on an early morning while a survivor of the French resistance explained to all of us that we were all standing on American soil and that he will never forget my countrymen’s sacrifice and courage. He handed each of us a paper with a name and grave number and he also gave us a red rose. The name on my paper was De-Chema. I made my way down the dozens of rows of crosses and jewish stars to find this man’s grave. I was alone for the first time since arriving at the airport in Houston. In fact, I have never felt more alone than that moment. It was also cold, rainy, and windy but I eventually found the grave and laid the rose in front of the cross. I stood there for minutes; looking down at this man’s grave and thinking about who he was. I was profoundly moved. I became emotional and slowly walked away. Looking back, I realized that the experience was life changing. I knew I wanted to serve my country and I also knew my summer in Europe would be more than partying and girls.
The more I think about that amazing summer, the more I realize how I have changed. It is evident that each and every trip I have taken from Normandy until now was very special. I have enjoyed stepping outside of myself and seeing the world through the lens of the amazing experience of growing up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Each trip formed who I am in ways that are both good and bad. Make no mistake about it, I am an American through and through and I have served my country in multiple capacities (as a consultant) from Fort Hood, Texas to Islamabad, Pakistan. Yes, I have traveled to palaces and shit holes, but every trip I learned more about who I am and what I want out of life. I frown upon recent comments that have implied I do not love the U.S. or that I would prefer to travel abroad. Those comments do not deserve a response, but I do love my country and I also love traveling the world. Life is definitely good.
My mentor once said, “when you travel, you leave a little bit of your dust behind but if you’re smart you can also take some back with you. Samuel, you just won’t be the same after a few trips.” That advice has proven to be invaluable.
In-between Normandy and Madrid I have traveled to 44 U.S. States, three U.S. territories, lived in Brussels, Belgium, made countless trips to Mexico, lived in Washington, D.C. for 10 years, and traveled to many other countries for both work and pleasure. There are parts of me still left at the places I have visited and there are also parts of the places I visited still with me. Traveling should not be about box checking. Save the conquests for the cube life when you get back to the office. Traveling should be about growing personally and allowing others to grow from you.
Sorry for rambling on… Anyway, I am currently situated in my happy place, which is Madrid, Spain. Nothing brings me more joy than living here. This city simply fits. Regardless, every time I leave for a new adventure I think about what I learned on that cold and rainy morning in Normandy. I think about the cross, the rose, and one man’s sacrifice.
Travel often and travel with a purpose. Enjoy!
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