The Sojourner: How My Biracial and Indian Upbringing Made Me a Traveler at Heart
- I aim to spend the years ahead simultaneously seeking knowledge and chasing adventure because for me those two things are synonymous.
Chanka, or thepla, is an Indian flatbread. I describe it to curious friends as a spicy pancake: squash, chickpea flour, and spices hand-mixed and cooked flat on a pan. Like me, chanka travels well. In fact, I’ve eaten chanka at three of the Seven Wonders of the World. Travels like those have shaped who I am and how I think about the world.
Since my first flight at less than a year old, my mom has instilled in me the idea that I don’t have just one home. Home was anywhere we went to visit family. Driving 3 hours to Hummelstown, PA? “We’re going home.” Trip to Atlanta? “Home.” Flying across the world to India? “Home.” Through my own travels, I’ve found that home can be anywhere, as long as there is love.
I’ve been lucky to find many homes over the years, an ability I attribute to my biracial and bi-religious identity. My roots in India make it easier to find a home in unexpected places. My Christian and Hindu identity allow me to view different faiths, philosophies, and beliefs through others’ eyes. As a person of mixed race and religion, I walk in both families, both cultures, both worlds. What are a few more?
The more time I spend experiencing new cultures, the more I understand the importance of being a traveler, as compared to a tourist. Granted, I obviously don’t want to run around foreign cities in a “USA” bucket hat, loudly asking where the nearest McDonald’s is, but it’s more than that. “Traveler” does not just mean “one who travels.” It’s an identity, one that I’m growing into.
A traveler adapts. My first time flying by myself, at 7 years old, I was terrified. Since then, my experiences traveling alone have built up my confidence by teaching me that I can overcome any drawback, take any bad and make it good. One night in Costa Rica, our neighborhood’s power went out. Apprehensive, but wanting to help, I ventured outside. In the street, I met some local kids; fear gave way to fun, and that blackout turned into a late-night game of tag. Hindrances are inevitable, but they never dull my itch to keep exploring.
A traveler has an open mind. As a little kid visiting India, my daily activities included bathing with buckets, using latrines, and riding in rickshaws. As I walked Ahmedabad’s streets I passed not only stray dogs, but cows, horses, and camels wandering unsupervised. That’s just how India is. Exposure to a wildly different lifestyle helped me develop an open mind. As I encounter even more different cultures, I know being receptive and respectful is vital. I do my best to keep that mindset not only when traveling, but whenever I encounter unfamiliar ideas.
A traveler has an innate curiosity. My curiosity has turned trips into learning experiences. I learned from family friends in Tel Aviv and displaced Palestinians in the West Bank that there are many sides to a story, and that to thoroughly understand any situation I need to hear the perspectives of all who are affected.
I learned from exploring the cloud forests in Costa Rica that there are even more natural wonders on this planet than I can imagine, and we must protect them all. I learned from veterinarians and biologists in Belize about the intersection between culture and science, and that I can work with animals — a longtime goal of mine — anywhere in the world.
I’m only 17 years old; aspiration will serve me better than retrospect. I dream of traveling the world, applying my studies to better understand and protect it. I’ll find new homes. I’ll adapt. I’ll stay curious. Because I have never felt more alive, more truly myself, than when I was learning and living abroad. So, I aim to spend the years ahead simultaneously seeking knowledge and chasing adventure, because for me those two things are synonymous.
(This was Kedhar’s Common App college essay)
Kedhar W. Bartlett is a Senior at the PCTI Stem Academy in Wayne, NJ. He enjoys playing his guitar, learning about biochemistry, and advocating for science and social change.