As someone who’s been very fortunate to travel extensively — both for work and pleasure — I recognize how much experiencing new cultures, people, and ideas has helped me grow as a person. I know my colleagues at Miller Center share this view. So it’s immensely gratifying for our team that some of our fellows are traveling internationally this summer for the first time since before the pandemic. Two went to Nepal to work on their action research projects with Gham Power, and two more just left for Mexico to work with Someone Somewhere. This immersive, hands-on travel is a huge part of what makes the Miller Center Lewis Family Fellowship so meaningful for our students.
This year, travel is also taking on new layers for me personally. With summer winding down, I’m sitting on a beach in Hawaii, preparing to say goodbye to my 17-year-old daughter Paloma. She’s been traveling and living around the world her entire life, so she really wanted to spend her final two years of high school studying overseas (in this case, almost halfway across the Pacific). As I write this, she’s about to start her junior year at the Asia Pacific International School on Oahu. The school’s experiential, project-based learning environment plays to Paloma’s strengths, and she’s excited about its focus on global citizenship and sustainability.
And this isn’t Paloma’s first independent adventure away from home this summer. In July, she spent 3 weeks in Guatemala studying Spanish and living with a host family. We adopted Paloma from Guatemala when she was 5 months old, and it was important to her to connect with her language and cultural heritage in a meaningful way. It was also a chance for her to improve her Spanish, which had generally taken a backseat to a combination of English and local words and phrases in the places we lived — Indonesia, Paris, Mozambique, and Cambodia.
There’s magic in living in another place, even for a short time. For Paloma, Guatemala became a part of her, and the people who hosted her became her second family. It was incredible to watch how quickly she adopted the place of her birth — the energy, the art, the people, the colors, the markets, everything. This trip was a wonderful opportunity for authentic cultural connections for her.
From rediscovering Paloma’s roots, we’re now discovering for the first time, the place she’ll spend the next couple of years. And the Hawaiian culture is remarkable and rich, from its myths and stories to Hawaiians’ deep relationship with the earth and the natural wonder of the islands.
It’s exciting to share these experiences with my daughter — hiking across a suspension bridge over Lake Atitlan, walking along the beaches of Waikiki, and trekking in the foothills of volcanoes across both locations — each offering opportunities for us to learn something new together. Interestingly, volcanoes are prominent and culturally significant in both Guatemala and Hawaii, providing another connection for Paloma.
It’s truly been a summer of major milestones for our family. Our daughter is maturing into a young woman navigating new places on her own. And her parents are getting used to the idea of not having her close to home. Even when that home was on the other side of the globe, we were together as a family. If anyone left, it was usually me for a business trip. Certainly not Paloma. But she’s ready. And I’m so proud of the woman she’s becoming.
It’s fascinating to watch this all through her eyes, first as I dropped her off and picked her up in Guatemala and now in Hawaii. These opportunities for discovery and self-discovery are causing me to reflect, here on this magnificent island. Travel allows us to discover the beauty in the world and to recognize that diverse cultures and practices enhance that beauty. At the same time, it’s a sense of our shared humanity that helps us appreciate our differences and bridge divides. And it is the remarkable beauty in both our diversity and our similarities that fills me with hope.