Welcome back to We Fly High, where I shut up, and let you, our interesting readers, do all the talking. This week, I’m excited to share a 15 year old’s story that really makes you think, wait why aren’t we all traveling in our teens? Here’s another reminder that it’s not just Damon and Jo booking cheap flights and wandering the world (PS: This is where I plug the fact you can book flights on our site). There are so many more of us doing incredible things than you would even think, let me introduce you to one of them.
Give us the deets, how old are you, and where are you from?
My name is Clayton Anderson, I’m 15 years old and I am from San Antonio, Texas. Home of the Alamo, the Riverwalk, and Tex-Mex food! ,
What’s your travel story?
I just studied at a language school in Mexico City for three weeks by myself. It was a wonderful and life-changing experience. My Spanish has improved in so many different ways, I learned to be confident and independent, and I was able to discover (and rediscover) my hopes and passions.
I faced so many challenges when I went on this trip. My family was sure that I would get kidnapped or beheaded because “it’s Mexico City”. They begged me not to go and they were genuinely terrified haha. I did EVERYTHING in my power to convince them, including writing a 10 page essay on why they should let me go and why I would be safe. Another challenge was my age. I sent emails to every well known language school in the D.F., but none of them would take a minor, so I had to keep digging. Again, my family was convinced that a 15 year old would not be able to live in a place as dangerous as Mexico City (haha).
You go boo boo! I’m so proud of you – Mexico City is definitely a massive city for you to be wandering in solo. Was traveling encouraged in your childhood?
Most definitely. I vividly remember buying a globe when I was about 8, spinning it, pointing to random places, and saying “I’m going to go there one day” or “I’m going to learn the language of that country.” My family loves to travel, and we pride ourselves on not spending money on material things like brand-names and such so we can. We’ve been all over Europe and the Caribbean together, and recently we visited Spain and Portugal together. It was a trip full of translating my family’s questions to Spanish and struggling to translate my family’s questions to Portuguese (haha).
That’s definitely a great advantage to have – travel in the blood. What made you decide you wanted to study abroad at such a young age?
Oh story time! Well, it all started during my 8th grade year when I had a sort of traumatic experience. I was walking on the track in gym class when a crazy looking kid came up to me and started yelling at me in Spanish. I was very confused to say the least, but after a little while, he decided to shove me to the ground and continued to yell at me. Thankfully, one of my Spanish speaking friends was able to rescue me and clear up the situation. I guess you could say I was scared, but it’s pretty funny in hindsight, so I think it was more like motivation. That summer I decided that I had to learn Spanish. I started a language exchange with a stranger who I met on a FANTASTIC website called italki.com and talked with him for about 3 hours every night. He quickly became one of my best friends and he would always tell me about his city. I was enamored by big-city life (haha). I basically became obsessed about all things Mexico City. I started to look for language schools in Mexico City and decided that I just couldn’t wait untill I was older. So I didn’t!
Funny enough, I was going to be an italki teacher while hustling to make the channel a full-time thing! Glad you loved it, and it’s good readers also know where they can find their language partners.
Were people around you supportive of your decision to study abroad?
From the very beginning, very few people said that they believed in me. I think this was my biggest challenge because after months of being told that I was too young, too naïve, or too much of a dreamer, I began to get discouraged. I almost gave in and decided to just drop it, but then out of one last plea for help, I contacted Damon through Instagram. I knew that he had done something similar when he was my age, so I asked for any advice that he could give me. I had no expectation that he would reply, so I was incredibly surprised when he answered. He told me that I just needed to show them how much I wanted to go and that I HAD to go. From then on, I began to tell myself that I was going to do this. There were no options. If Damon said that I had to go, then I had no choice haha! He also told me something that I didn’t understand until I actually returned from my trip. He said “people will freak out until you do it, then when you do, everyone is ‘so proud’ and supportive.”
Yay! We always try to respond to your messages, because we know there was no one helping us when it could’ve been so helpful!
What about the cash money: how did you afford your ticket?
I was very fortunate to have parents that would pay for my trip, but I was able to make sure we saved as much money as possible by selecting a $18 a night Airbnb, choosing the cheapest flights, and booking in advance. Plus, it’s Mexico, so living expenses are pretty low for us Americans.
Gotta love that conversion rate from pesos to dollars!
Where did you actually study?
I came into contact with Lengua y Cultura Spanish School. I bombarded them with more emails and questions than I’d like to admit, but finally a school accepted me and I solidified my plans. I signed up for the full immersion program in which I studied for 6 hours everyday for five days a week. The director of the school also offered for me to stay in his Airbnb with his family. I graciously accepted, I booked a flight, and I was off.
The relationships I formed with my teachers will last a lifetime. They influenced me in so many ways. My lessons with them encouraged me to keep learning languages, be more active in politics and current events, and simply enjoy life and not take things so seriously all the time. We went to protests, explored the city, and discussed the corruption in the Mexican government, making me decide that I want to be a journalist when I grow up.
Isn’t it crazy how much you can learn not in the traditional setting? I’m always amazed that there’s so much knowledge out there, you just have to go and get it.
How did the trip actually play out? Did you enjoy your time?
The trip itself was amazing and unforgettable. I stayed in a very hipster part of the city called Hipódromo with vibrant urban life. My accommodation was a $20 dollar 4th floor walkup building Airbnb. I was able to sample espressos and devour gorgeous meals in the many cafes surrounding the area. As an actor, singer, and dancer, I more than appreciated Mexico City’s art scene. Art galleries and artisan markets litter Mexico City, and I was also able to see (and understand haha) Romeo and Juliet in Spanish. Of course I went to all of the touristy sites which were absolutely stunning. I was also able to take a small road trip with one of my best friends to Teotitiuacán, a beautiful and gigantic archeological site about one hour north of Mexico City.
Ughhh you’re making me want to book my flight there now!
What about the not-so-glamourous part of the experience, did you face homesickness?
You know, not really. There were times when I wished my friends were there to experience what I was experiencing, but it wasn’t like I was crying and screaming “I want to go home!” I loved every moment of my trip. I was going to class every weekday from 9 to 5 and touring/going out afterwards, so I was almost too busy to be homesick. I actually faced more homesickness when I returned to the US. I formed really close bonds with my teachers at the school and it was super sad to leave my friend (though we are planning for him to visit the US soon).
The key to avoiding homesickness is absolutely keeping busy!
What was the hardest part about being away?
COMING BACK. Living in a big city with great public transportation is LIBERATING as a suburban teenager. As a coffee addict, the coffee culture in Mexico City was majorly enabling, so I had to cut back on my 1000 espressos everyday when I got back. It was also really weird for me to start speaking English again. After only communicating in Spanish for three weeks, English felt foreign and sounded ugly to me. But, while I was in Mexico, I remember that I was constantly tired for the first week. Communicating only in Spanish was draining at first, but as the time passed, I was able to communicate with far more ease and confidence. It was also hard to hold off on practicing musical theatre (I go to an arts high school and major in musical theatre), but I was able to sing in elevators, which interestingly actually helped my voice and technique! Resisting the temptation of Chilango street food (which apparently rots during the summer idk?), commute times (ugh! Mexico City traffic is the worst), and periodically texting my mom to let her know where I was were also struggles I faced during my trip.
Haha, I totally get what you mean about the fatigue of learning a language – it’s exhausting, but so worth it. That’s why you need all those coffees.
What’s next now that you’re so well traveled at such a young age?
Oh goodness where to start… Well first, I was really inspired by one of my teachers Blanca Padilla (http://librepensador-sigloxxi.blogspot.com/ http://salasdelecturaenmovimiento.blogspot.com/), a journalist and social activist who taught me all about Mexican politics and the corruption within the government, so I plan to start writing articles and studying journalism. I am very passionate about growing the #nosfaltan43 movement (a movement to find 43 kidnapped college students and hold those involved accountable PLEASE GOOGLE THIS) that has sadly lost a considerable amount of attention in the world and encouraging people to stay up to date with current events around the entire world, not just crazy American politics! I am currently focusing on my Portuguese, which strangely improved a ton after taking so many Spanish classes. I also plan on starting French sometime soon. I can’t wait to keep traveling and learning languages!!
Clayton, you are a gem of a young person, and I can only imagine the insanely great things you’ll do in your life. Thank you for sharing your story, and you’ll be happy to know I’m starting my Spanish classes this week – so vamos a hacer videos en español ;).
Be well and keep shutting up and going!
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