Check this picture out! I'm in my early twenties, a zillion years ago, on my first trip to the homeland of the Philippines with my gramma. That's her in the background wearing one of her many muumuus.
As I prepare to depart for South Africa, I'm thinking about that formative journey. I didn't know how I felt about my heritage or my home country when I arrived. I was still pretty awkward back then. Check the long ponytail and thick, bright-blue glasses, high-top sneakers, and faded jeans!
I felt very "other" in the Philippines – I spoke the wrong language, wore the wrong clothes, even made the wrong gestures, walked wrong. Kids shouted Japanese phrases at me because they assumed I was a tourist from Japan.
By the time I came back to the states a few weeks later, I had a newfound understanding of my homeland, and a stronger sense of connection. The Philippines was not completely me, but it was more a part of how I identified myself afterwards. And I understood more about what it meant to be an American from that trip.
Few other trips I have taken since then have had such a long-lasting impact.
Today, I am going back to the true homeland of us all, to the "Mother City" of humanity. I'm excited about all I'm going to discover, both about South Africa, and about myself.