When I first heard I would be going to Panama to see my family, I have to admit I was worried. My mom often talked about her Panamanian cousins and the fun times they had together, but I wasn't so sure I would really connect with them the way she did. As soon as I stepped foot on the plane, panic took over. I would be flying to another country to stay with people I had never met for over a week in a foreign country I knew almost nothing about. And since I wouldn't get phone service in Panama, I wouldn't have any form of electronic communication with my friends. To my surprise, the experience would turn out to be both unexpected yet everything I could have hoped for.
My knowledge of Panama was very limited. All I knew about were the tropical jungles and the Panama Canal. From what I gathered from my mom's stories the trip would be adventurous and exciting, but all I could imagine were substandard houses and rundown buildings in the middle of a sweltering, steamy jungle. I had never been out of the country before, so I felt as if I was visiting a whole new world completely different from the United States where everyone lived far away from any sort of civilization. I dreaded the entire of the idea of the trip in the first place. Why Panama? What's so great about some jungle filled country in Central America? For me, the highlight of the trip would be the zip-line adventure. I braced myself for mosquitoes and long, hot, and uncomfortable nights.
When we arrived, the real Panama quickly replaced the Panama of my imagination. Landing in the booming capital I realized I had a lot to learn; not only about the country itself but the people and my family especially. Immediately, the tall office buildings, the Trump Towers and the massive amounts of traffic revealed an aspect of Panama that was more like New York City than what I had imagined. I discovered that the Panama Canal wasn't just a hole dug out by Americans a long time ago; it was an architectural wonder with a complex system of water locks and devices that function with timepiece precision. And not only was the current canal impressive, but the new one under construction was even more astonishing. A massive canal that is being built that will be more than twice the size and will allow for the “monster ships,” as they call them, to easily pass through. Now ships strategically squeeze by with only about a foot on each side. After realizing how technologically similar the United States and Panama were, I began taking a closer look at comparing our cultures. After going out to eat for dinner, watching a soccer match on TV, and going to the mall, I realized that we really weren't all that different at all.
Before leaving for Panama I dreaded the prospect of spending my vacation in an entirely different land with a loose family connection and a culture almost nothing like my own. I imagined that my cousins would have strange customs and live completely different lives. Yet what actually happened was much different. My trip to Panama, which was more meaningful than I could have imagined, has sparked my curiosity and has made my thirst for travel grow. Travel isn't about seeing things that are strange and different; it's about seeing things you think are strange and different and realizing that they really aren't. Travel allows us to overcome stereotypes and prejudice while instilling in us a greater love for the human race.
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