By Samantha Speedy
Lighthouse Point’s Samantha Speedy set out on a global adventure, which expanded her perspective and brought unexpected joy.
I arrived in Europe with an American flag literally plastered on my back, in the form of a patch on an old denim jacket. As I waited for my baggage in Rome International Airport I watched Italian newscasters analyze a tape of one Trump controversy or another with the headline “Trump: the next Berlusconi?” and thought, “I gotta get a new jacket.”
Six months later, I threw it away in Germany. My backpack had gotten too full of magnets, ticket stubs and other souvenirs to continue carrying it despite our lengthy companionship and it’s remarkably roomy pockets. After months of being thrown under tables at bars, sat on for picnics and generally being treated like a napkin, it less resembled a denim jacket and more a burlap sack. It had suffered greatly under my ownership, but never brought me anything but good fortune—neither my American flag patch nor my thick South Florida inflection seemed to incite anything more than a casual conversation about politics or, more frequently, questions about if American high school parties are really like they show in the movies.
The most common reaction I received toward my American citizenship was simply one of appreciation. “Americans never come abroad!” I’d hear. “It’s like, they never learn anything about the world!” I had to restrain from informing them that even before I had made the decision to travel, I had seen the entirety of Planet Earth, so yeah, I knew a thing or two about the world, thank you very much. But, in the end, they were right: I had no idea what it felt like to run half a mile with a 60-pound backpack to catch a train that you can’t afford to miss, and that seems to be a right of passage for everyone in Europe, no matter their nationality. I had no idea what it felt like to eat wild blackberries in the Isle of Skye, or dance with refugees to an American pop song, or inexplicably participate in a Mexican cacao ceremony in the middle of Indonesia.
I don’t know if these objectively wonderful things helped me understand the world at large, but they certainly taught me a lot about how many kinds of joy there are. There’s a unique happiness that comes from even very small experiences, each a different flavor, some only available in
Even the bad times are hazed over in a nostalgia of adventure: my five-day kidney infection that ended with a trip to an Italian hospital where nobody spoke English is now just a funny story with some residual bitterness that I didn’t get to eat as much pasta as I would have liked. Pushing through setbacks in foreign countries fostered confidence far past what I can even recognize in myself, and, have made me very cocky around public transportation.
As I left Iceland, my last stop before coming home, I was already thinking about going to Asia or South America one day, places that a year ago I thought I would never survive from culture shock alone. Of course I can do Asia! South America is practically continental! I once showed up for an international flight four days late and I still got there. I can do anything (except donate a kidney).