Human beings often fail to value the most precious gifts life has to offer. We tend to focus on our number of Instagram followers, if we are creasing our Jordans, and if we have enough time to finish the Netflix show we are currently binging. Why are these distractions so prized? Why do people choose to overlook the natural beauty and rich experiences that can come from unplugging and venturing into a new culture? As a Gen Z woman, I feel it is my responsibility to maximize the opportunities that were not readily available to my foremothers.
Janet Pyle Rodgers, my great-great-great-great grandmother, was born in England in 1829. Records from the time are somewhat incomplete; what is known is that she was the eldest of at least nine children, and at a young age, she married Alexander Rodgers. They had 11 children, and she passed away in 1871 while pregnant with the 12th. This was the expectation in her world. She wasn’t allowed to have a job. She was not a member of the workforce. She was not encouraged to explore. While I cannot speak to her happiness, I do understand her opportunities - or lack thereof. Her path was chosen for her. I never knew her personally, but I know the people who came from her; her immersion in the 19th century home planted the roots of my heritage.
When my grandmother, Janet Louise, was born in the middle of the 20th century, technology and travel had advanced, but in many ways our Society had not. Marriage was still expected of young women. Babies were the logical next step. My Grandma Janet was only three years older than I am now when she married, and five when she had my Aunt Mary.. The extent of her immersion was a small house on Regent Street, because who has time to see the world when they’re raising three children under the age of five. She was changing diapers. She was running on minimal sleep. She was reading bedtime stories. My grandma shined in these circumstances; I cannot imagine how she would have thrived given the opportunities I have.
While I am a product of these women, I am also my own person. I have two things they did not have: The path they paved for me, and global opportunities. In just a few short months, I will be welcomed into a European home where I will live as a Spaniard. We will gather around the jamón ibérico. We will siesta. We will sing Taylor Swift and Enrique Iglesias. Most importantly, we will connect. These moments are why this trip is essential. If I wish to be half as strong as my ancestors, I must seize this opportunity to grow in my understanding of the world, as well as make myself an active part of it.
Learning about the lives of my ancestors has helped me recognize that everyone has experienced immersion differently over the centuries. My excitement for this 21st century adventure is inspired by the women who have come before me and instills a passion to maximize the opportunities in front of me. Whether it is learning to make paella, witnessing the Rock of Gibraltar with my own eyes, or attending school with my host sibling, I look forward to sharing every memory I make with my Grandma Janet. I will be back in the United States, but reliving these experiences with her will transport us both to MY immersion. I know that I can honor both of my Grandma Janets by embracing the privilege of exploration. The legacy that I wish to leave behind will be defined by my decision to wander, not squander.
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