by Naomi Grewan
Boarding a plane to Argentina at 18 years old was probably the bravest thing I’ve ever done. However, getting off that plane and knowing nothing about Argentinian culture or Spanish as a language would definitely not be put in the ‘bravery’ category.
I distinctly remember getting off the plane and feeling ambushed by the number of conversations happening in languages I could not understand and signs that were written in languages I could not read.
Unsurprisingly, I felt like a bit of an idiot. An excited idiot, but an idiot nonetheless. Not knowing anything or anyone, this was the perfect opportunity to reinvent myself. To carve a new persona without any expectations from friends or family. Having just finished Matric, I was eager to show the world what I had to offer, but I never could’ve guessed what it would have to offer me.
It’s very cliché to say I left South Africa to ‘find myself’ but by the end of my two-year journey that’s what ended up happening. There’s a quote that says “a comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing grows there,” and I always believed it but never really bought into it until it was my own life.
Leaving South Africa was that moment for me; realising that my life was and is entirely in my own hands. The moment I stepped off that plan, independence hit me just as hard as the humidity. Regardless of the terror (and the heat), it was exciting and new. A new culture, a new language and even in those first few moments I knew I would want to be in Buenos Aires forever.
After my plan to teach English went horribly sideways within the first six months, a semi-hopeless me sat in a coffee shop, homeless and with a massive baby pink suitcase beside me. Somehow the thrill of being in charge of my own life and the fear of failure motivated me to drink an insurmountable amount of coffee and quit my not-so-lucrative job.
I made the decision to quit my job as an English teacher on a Thursday, I had an interview for a company that following Friday and by that Monday I was on a plane to Chile to perform for an educational theatre company.
That spontaneity changed my life. That willingness to just say “screw it” and make the scary decision. Taking that risk took me from Argentina, to Chile, to Peru, to Ecuador, to Uruguay, to Paraguay, to Brazil, and to Mexico. If those two years abroad taught me anything, it was to take every opportunity that comes your way.
A cup of coffee can give you the push you may need to take that leap.
In my case, that leap lead me to travelling and working in eight different Latin American countries.
I can guarantee that the person I was ten years ago never would’ve thought I’d make it that far.
However, when an experience has run its course, it’s just as important to know when to let it go.
I know the Naomi I was when I left for Argentina was not the same Naomi who came back home. I had a decade worth of experiences within the space of two years. From leaving home, to travelling, to living with new people, to living alone, to loss, to love, to racist, homophobic bosses and to New Years on a beach in Rio de Janeiro. By the end of my two years, it was time to come back home.
There has always been a big part of me that’s hoped that one day I could share my experiences with others in a way that might encourage them to make changes in their lives that challenge them.
I’m not saying that everyone needs to quit their jobs go to Latin America, although I do recommend it. All I’m saying is if there are otherworldly opportunities available to you - take them.
I am very aware of how privileged I am to have had these experiences, but I put the work in to get there and every single day I made the conscious decision to carpe that diem. Sometimes it’s the smallest changes in our lives that can make the biggest differences.
Taking that job offer, going to that event, making a new friend, joining the student press.
When the time eventually comes for you to make that scary decision, just ask yourself: “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”