I come from a small coastal town in the north of Spain, population 220,000. It’s a quaint place where life is easy, the weather is mild, nature is vividly present and buildings are beautifully preserved. Although some have left home to follow unpredictable directions, the general rule where I come from is to stick around, for life. The day I took a leap of faith towards the unknown, as I got onto a plane towards Cambridge, UK, I could have never imagined that 12 years later I would be here, in Florida, writing this essay, getting ready to graduate from Lingua Language Center at Broward College.

Around the age of 16, while I was intensely deliberating possible career paths and trying desperately to find ways to make my studies affordable for my family, my mother finally admitted the reason why she had been showing so little interest and support throughout this whole process. She knew that soon, my studies would have to come to an end and I would have to start working. Being a single mom with a physical disability, not to mention having to withstand an abusive ex-husband, the father of her teen daughters, there was only so much her frail body and mind were able to handle. If I wanted to study, it would have to be on my own, and if possible, in my own place.

The news didn’t come as much of a shock, but it definitely made some cracks on a floor I once thought to be sturdy. I felt betrayed; why was my older sister allowed to study in a Bachelor’s degree program while I could not even consider that option? My mother reminded me how much effort she had put into paying for the bilingual school I had attended up to the age of 12, when we still had the means and before our lives were turned upside down; how she felt I was strong and clever enough to build a life on my own without needing a degree.

Studying in those last few months of high school became irrelevant and a great hassle. I felt the urge to start making money in order to support myself. I was working as a bartender at nights on weekends, and during the week I took up basically any job I was fit to do, in order to start saving for my future. Since I was arriving home in the wee hours of the morning every weekend, my mom thought I was going through a juvenile phase of disobedience and rebelling against authority. Little did she know that the rebellion was against time.

So, on the day of my 18th birthday, to my mother’s great surprise, I went to my high school principal’s office, strengthened with a sense of purpose and direction, and signed my first official document as an adult to voluntarily end my current studies, reclaiming the freedom I felt had been taken away from me. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was also signing up for a very daunting adult life which I wasn’t entirely ready for.

Without a high school diploma, or family support, I took the little money I had saved and bought myself a plane ticket to the UK where I was hoping to improve my English, which I considered to be my strongest asset. Off I went, and from being a hairdresser’s apprentice in Cambridge, I jumped back to Spain to be a retail vendor, cocktail bartender, nanny, cleaner, waitress, dry-cleaning staff, receptionist, cook… even an English teacher! I rarely had just one job and tried hard to juggle two or three jobs at a time. By the time I was 21, I had acquired an immense array of soft skills that would allow me to pass any interview I was called for.

Nonetheless, my decision of ending my studies early has always haunted me and over the years I had managed to convince myself that I was dumb and lacked the capacity to learn anything. So, when I was offered the opportunity by a very reputable French airline to complete a flight attendant course, it was definitely a challenge. We had to learn airline regulations, safety procedures, and emergency drills by heart, in English. To my amazement, I managed to reach the highest marks in the history of the company for a non-English speaker, and a month later I was traveling to my home for the next five years, Paris. I didn’t speak a word of French and I had no idea how I was going to find my way around. Again, I lived, and I learned.

After 5 years in the City of Light, numerous travels through Europe, a high self-attained level of spoken and written French, and an expanded family of friends, I encountered the imminent possibility of working in a super yacht for a very wealthy and prestigious man who I cultivated great respect and admiration for. Within less than a week, I was swapping planes for boats and making my way to the Balearic Island of Mallorca. Even though I struggled to learn the tricks of the trade and dealt with occasional bouts sea sickness, I was promoted yet again, and for the following two years I travelled to places I would have never dreamt of visiting and was able to save enough money to go back to face one of my biggest fears, studying.

Here I am, facing a new start and its inherent challenges, this time in sunny Florida, with my best allies: languages, faith in myself and in a better future, and the determination to pursue my studies as my own sponsor. As children and adolescents, we are always asked what we want to be when we grow up. It is such an intimidating question and I’m not even sure the answer matters anymore. Instead, what really matters is to keep growing. The same way trees don’t think about their future and just instinctively follow light, we should follow what lightens up our hearts and never cease to do so, no matter how many hardships we encounter along the way. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up because I haven’t stopped growing and I look forward to continuing to do so, but this looks like a good place to start once more.

Silvia Vega