Turning 18 And Taking My First Trip Abroad to Aruba #TheYearOf40

Estimated read time 4 min read

Imagine a girl who grew up in a house with only dirt under her feet and not paint on the walls. Imagine how she used to daydream about traveling the world as she took yet another trip to her grandmother’s town or saw herself in the beautiful places the characters of her favorite soap opera visited. That girl was me and as I took my first trip abroad to visit my mother in Aruba, I was overwhelmed with all the emotions and excitement from years of dreaming about this moment.my-first-trip-abroad

I hadn’t seen my mother in more than 3 years and I didn’t know what to expect from our meeting at the airport. She was now remarried and had my baby brother living with her, they were a family and I had never lived with her like that. It was not only my first trip abroad, I was also entering foreign territory and was nervous about how I was going to feel during my time there.

Before I was to face those feelings, came the excitement of getting on a plane for the first time ever. I was so excited that I even wore the formal outfit Mamá Amparo had picked for me instead of the cool jeans and ‘rocker’ look I was aiming for. Flying, I was going to be flying and just the thought of that had me walking on air. Being that this was my first trip abroad I didn’t know what to expect of Aruba, and I didn’t research.

Getting on the airplane I was all giggles between the excitement and the nerves; still remember that hollow feeling in my stomach as the plane took off. Looking through the window to see how high I was and imagining how everything will look like. I tried to play it cool as if this wasn’t my first trip abroad, but I think my smile during the whole flight gave me away. My heart was beating so fast as we landed, and getting off the plane I lost my balance a bit because of how strong the wind was.

Back then in Aruba you had to get off the plan on the tarmac and then walk into the airport building, and I wasn’t prepared for how strong the wind was. When I walked into the building, I say my mother, we hugged and some of my nerves calmed. The next few months were incredible, an experience that allow me to get to know my mother better than I had known her during my lifetime.

My First Trip Abroad Was Full Of Firsts

There were many things I experience for the first time during my first trip abroad. Because I spent several months in Aruba, there are countless memories of fun and adventurous things I did, but some of them were more precious because were things I had never done in my life, and they were happening as I reached adulthood. I think they were a sign of the years to come and the many adventures and opportunities that were to come my way.

My favorite firsts during my first trip abroad:

  • Went parasailing and felt powerful and free being up in the air
  • Tried antillian food and danced to antillean music
  • Sat down to read a book at the same time with my mother and discovered we both like to read aloud
  • Took a dip in a natural pool located at Aruba’s National Park Arikok
  • Although there is a natural pool in the Dominican Republic, at that point in my life I hadn’t visited
  • Discovered papiamento and managed to learn many words and phrases
  • Listened to the music of Carlos Vives and became an instant fan
  • Had my first foreign romance
  • Went kayaking and discovered I was good at it
  • Worked as a babysitter helping my mother in her home daycare
  • Walked to the very top of a mountain who happens to have almost 600 hundred steps to go up. Called Hooiberg, this is the second highest point in Aruba which is mainly flat

My first trip abroad was an amazing experience of discovery and a bonding time with my mother like I never had before. This year of my life was the beginning of a decade full of adventure, learning, love and loss for me. I enjoyed every minute of it.

When and where did you go on your first trip abroad?


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  1. 1
    Maritere Rodriguez Bellas

    Hi Dani! I love reading this story! It reminded me of my first trip abroad at 18. I went to study languages in Switzerland for two years. Definitely a year of firsts for me too: First kiss by a Brazilian boy (ha!), first time meeting people from all over the world, including Persians,Arabs, Greeks, Turkish and Californians! (ha!)
    First time I realized the benefits of speaking more than one language and of being exposed to other cultures. I believe that the experience helped me become the person I am today: an advocate of raising bilingual and multicultural children.
    Thanks for sharing you story! Abrazos, Mari

  2. 2
    Dania Santana

    Thank you Mari! It has been fun writing this series, but I must confess that the younger years were hard to remember details and recount the stories. Now I’ve gotten to the years I remember clearly and I know that will make it easier. So much fun to remember our youth and when we first encounter diversity in the world, plus the kiss from a Brazilian boy sounds more than exciting, haha! Thanks for reading!

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