I left my home of St. Croix for New York City at the age fifteen and decided on my own that I needed to leave my homeland. My mother rarely spoke with my father in a co-parenting fashion, but she said I should talk to him and let him know of my plans. They both agreed that each would help with half of the airline ticket and that I would work, save, and plan for this journey.
Before I went through the security gates at the airport, my mother in her way of being reassuring said I was doing what people normally do and that I shouldn’t be scared. When she used the phrase “doing what people normally do,” she was referring to the migration of people – herself, family members, friends, the Caribbean Diaspora – who she had witnessed leaving their childhood homes to pursue educational and professional opportunities in the United States and Europe. As a child, I heard the stories of those people time and time again and here I was following in their footsteps and about to embark in a similar fashion.
Although I had traveled before, it was always with my siblings and even though we were young we always had each other. When I arrived in New York, I was met by my mom’s youngest sister who had left St. Lucia some years before to move to the Big Apple. Always very direct and matter-of-fact, she greeted me with a serious question in an earnest tone. “Why are you here?” My response was simple, “I want to finish high school in America.” Deep down, I wanted to say that I was here to gain an inside track on America. I didn’t want to be American by way of the Caribbean. I wanted to find out from the inside what life in America was like.
High school in Brooklyn was completely different than the school I attended in St. Croix. My teachers had a teaching philosophy that I hadn’t yet experienced, namely that every student, no matter how poorly behaved or inept, could have a personal or academic breakthrough. This style of teaching helped me to finally excel at math, which I had always struggled with and it is one of the reasons I choose education as a career.
Upon receiving my high school diploma, I left the city behind and went to college in Rochester. My aunt accompanied me to the bus station and sent me off with the words, “good luck” and a hug. Once again, I was alone on yet another important journey. I had made my mind to get away from the city and its noise. I knew that college would take more discipline and NYC had too much distraction for a teenager. This feeling of being alone on important journeys had settled and I accepted my destiny to pursue college.
In college I became completely immersed in campus life. I held positions on the Black Student Union and wrote for the school newspaper and literary journal. During my junior year I decided to study abroad. I needed to break free from the microscopic lens of campus life to better understand myself; I decided to study abroad in London the second semester of my junior year.
I remember sitting in the cab at JFK and thinking to myself, “Joseph, you’ve done it now. Your quest for self-exploration is about to lead you even further away from the people you know.” Despite the fear in my heart, I could not let it paralyze my ability to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. I was going to explore a new country with no way of knowing for certain what could happen. My only solace was knowing I had done this before and it always worked out and it helped to have a solid plan in place as far as school and where I’d be living.
I left London certain about a few things in life:
- Each time you go it alone, you give yourself an opportunity to tap into inner strength and ability to adapt. It takes a strong person to navigate life with all its ups and downs. Figuring out a destination by yourself in a strange place at any age liberates you.
- You get to meet people from a different background who have a shared experience of having to leave home in search of opportunities.
- You interact with cultures and although you may not speak the language you try and find a way to communicate. This increases your awareness of how you fit into the world in a global context.
- You commit to knowing that things will work out in the end and it eases the pressures and stress of figuring life out.
- You embrace that it takes a degree of risk taking to find a newer you and it ignites your creativity and imagination.
I finally have something to say to my friends and family who ask why I am not afraid to travel alone and start over in a new place. I can honestly say its because it’s what many people have done to survive and find themselves. I’m not special or unique in this journey of traveling and starting over. I have lived in a few cities across America and always found that it was easier because of my early and formative years of embracing traveling as a means of survival. If I share my travels and seem to be an anomaly…I’m not. I’ve just embraced the journey that I’m on. It involves traveling as a means of finding renewed strength and purpose and some journeys take me further away for longer periods. I use my experiences through traveling all in the same way. I use it to achieve a heightened sense of who I am and what I’m capable of learning and doing with that knowledge.