I grew up in the northernmost suburb of San Diego County, in a nice home with a great family. I was able to play baseball as a kid, go to a good high school, get good grades and then go to college and come out of school debt-free due to scholarship I received.
Compared to the rest of the world, I had a huge leg up. I wasn’t forced to work on my parents’ ranch to pay bills. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to focus on more than paying off debt, raising a child, supporting my grandparents, or simply surviving.
So when I decided to leave the states for 4 months to travel, I made sure it wouldn’t go to waste. I had goals set out for myself.
- To experience everything that came my way
- To learn from my experiences
- To apply what I learned to my life and share it with others
This trip wasn’t about partying. It was about stretching myself to uncomfortable limits.
Some of those uncomfortable limits were living deep in the mountains for 2 months with no modern transportation, grid-supplied electricity, or grocery stores. Living in 3 different countries where I wasn’t fluent in the native language. Trekking over 40 miles in 4 days on my own across the Patagonia Mountains from one country to another.
1. What I experienced
It all started when I boarded the airplane from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I had been on planes at least fifty times before, and I knew the protocols–or at least I thought I did. Instead, I found myself in a new world that broke every social protocol I had ever seen on a plane…but in a good way.
As I walked on, I heard chatter amongst all the passengers. People were in the rows helping each other put bags in the overhead compartments and striking up lively conversation. After the first minute of witnessing this new environment in total amazement, I felt immediate warmth and connection to the people on the plane. I noticed I was smiling.
This banter and moving around and smiling continued right up until the door closed and the flight attendant got on the loudspeaker. And off I was to Buenos Aires, and the beginning of the rest of my adventure.
All my time in South America confirmed what I had seen on that single plane flight. In South America, they have something we just don’t have here in the States. And that “something” is an incredibly strong sense of community.
Photo Courtesy of Expanish.com
In Argentina, it felt like everyone was living life together. It’s ingrained in their culture, from sharing a maté in the afternoon to eating from one big plate at dinner. Any park I came across, no matter the size of the city or the time of day, it was filled with people playing fooseball, talking, laughing, or just simply hanging out. There aren’t many places you see that in the States.
2. What I learned
I have written about the most important thing I learned while traveling to South America, and I believe that action has a direct correlation to a much bigger way of life.
I also learned that community makes people happy. I experienced this firsthand. Argentina ranks 158 out of 179 countries in the world for economic freedom. The average income per person is $13,700 per year, where here in the States, it is approximately $42,000 per year.
You would think there would be despair everywhere. But there wasn’t. Why? Because everyone was in it together. (Or, at least, it seemed that way to me.)
Even as a complete stranger, I immediately felt like a part of that family and community while I was there. From it being so easy to hitchhike, to the point that I was able to travel 600 miles in 2 days by simply “hacer dedo”-ing; to being approached by an older lady at a bus station, simply to talk until the bus arrived; to people going above and beyond when I asked for help, generosity and community was everywhere.
When I returned from traveling, my eyes were opened. I had just finished traveling for 4 months but I couldn’t stop. As it turned out, my travels continued for another 6 months. I wanted to see what other parts of the world were like, and I was on a roll.
I went to Eastern Europe – Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. I drove across the U.S. and Canada over the course of 4 months, then settled in Richmond, Virginia. And in Europe, I found some similarities to what I found in South America–common squares where people gathered throughout the day and night in every town and community!
Main Square, Krakow Poland
During my travels in the U.S. this sense of community just wasn’t as apparent. The reason? I’m not sure, but I have a hunch.
In the States, a common dream is to become super rich and famous. To become a star. To work harder than the person next to you. To separate yourself from the pack. You can see this individualism everywhere; from the rushed streets of New York, to highways jam-packed with people by themselves in a 5+ person vehicle.
But if you look closely at all the people that have accomplished anything meaningful in the world, they were able to do it because they had the support of a strong community. They came from somewhere. And that community was able to launch them into the spotlight.
Amy Poehler couldn’t have made it big without the friends she made in Chicago, and then in the Upright Citizens Brigade. Jack White wouldn’t be the 8-time Grammy winner he is without his older brothers, his apprenticeship to a family friend, or his happenstance introduction to Meg White. Even Steve Jobs wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without A) the friends that allowed him to crash on their couches after dropping out of college, or B) meeting Steve Wozniak.
Community is the incubator of individuals. Community can be an outpost of expression and a light bursting through the darkness. And community can also support people pursuing their passions, push them to reach for the stars, and connect them with other individuals that can get them there.
3. How I’m going to apply it
During my travels across the States, I came across a group of people that have learned the same things I have and, like me, want to make the world a better place. Their name is Desert Canvas, and our mutual goal is to help people from all walks of life step outside their comfort zones, make lasting connections, learn about themselves, and create healthier and happier lives.
In order to do this, we focus on community–that element that is so strong in other parts of the world. The community fosters co-creation among its individuals on the basis that everyone has a passion and something they can teach to others. Adventure, authenticity and sustainability are core values DC believes can make the world a happier, safer, and more genuine place.
On June 4th, I, along with others in the Richmond community, will be creating and attending the first RVA Yoga And More In the Park Meetup where anyone from Richmond and the surrounding area is welcome to attend for FREE! And don’t forget about the MORE! There will be slacklining, hula hooping, and music.
The goal is to build a strong community that connects across the U.S.A, which has begun in Arizona, is continuing here in Virginia, and eventually will be branching out to worldwide events, workshops, and festivals. This is the beginning of a great organization that recognizes individualism, but understands that community is the foundation for individual success! Come on out and be a part of it!
Sonny Hughey – Energetic, living in new experiences, attracting others and sharing success. Sonny holds a degree in Physics, captained his collegiate baseball team to a Conference Championship, has touched down in 3 continents, 11 countries, and 40 of the 50 states. He owns his own business ShoobyUSA and works as a Test Engineer for MTS Systems. Sonny is 25 years old.
Featured Image Courtesy of Lez Photography