It is so hard to believe that this adventure has come to an end. In just a month, I have done so many things that I never, ever thought I could imagine. I climbed and slid down white, crystallized glacier caps. I fell countless times as my feet sank to my thighs in the snow. I befriended thousands of penguins as they marched along living their lives oblivious to my presence – and I loved every one of them! I saw seals with kind eyes pop their heads out of the water like a dog greeting his owner. Then, there were the whales. First, there were the Killer Whales circling my penguin friends with a group-like determination to ravage their prey. And then, the Humpbacks – flopping their great tails with a monstrous enthusiasm yet being playful at the same time. Buenos Aires is where I first lost my Spanish and gained it back. The food, people and streets of life are tremendous. I love the colors of the streets, music, the history, Recoletta Cemetery and the passion of the country! Then, we went on to Rio – the sun, the beaches, the people! Never have I seen such a beautiful sunset in all of my life. It was a proper display of appreciation as the thousands of people applauded the sun as it blew a final kiss for the night to us and promised to rise the next day. And lastly Iguazu Falls – truly a great wonder of the world. You could spend days upon days there and see something different each time you go. The magnificence of the pure power of each vein of the falls is mind-blowing. You see a different perspective with each step you take and angle of the sun against the water. Or, perhaps you are walking the trails away from the falls and a new creature or plant appears. Iguazu is life, and this is what this adventure was for me – living!
There are so many people that I have to thank for this adventure of a lifetime. In order for all of this to have happened, permission was bestowed upon me in countless ways. Permission to live, permission to try, permission to go, permission to share, and permission to make mistakes were all given to me in every second of this journey. Because of this permission, I say, “thank you” – from the bottom of my heart.
And so the list of gratitude for permission begins…
My Grandmother – She was the first world traveler that I knew. She lived and enjoyed life like no other. She traveled places at every age – as a child, teenager and octogenarian. She traveled places that seemed so obscure and many times alone – as a young woman in the world. She gave me the permission to even dream of Antarctica – and every place I have been or will go.
National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions – Not one part of this would ever have been possible without them. It is humbling to think that they chose me to be a member of the Grosvenor Teaching Fellow family. Amy Berquest and Nina Page were the lifeblood of this connection. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And, of course, all of my friends from the expedition. You made every breathe and sight worth sharing; I am proud to call you friends!
My Mom and Family – Nobody argued with me when I said I would not be home for the holidays. It was accepted and supported. And, my mom has continued to be an extension of my adventurous grandmother. She has traveled more than anyone I know and continues to do so. I live by her example – and look forward to more traveling because of her!
Dr. Hagstrom and Walt Disney Magnet School Family – From the moment that I found out that I would be on this wild ride, I was met with excitement and support at every turn. Words cannot describe the appreciation I have for the support and permission to be gone from school during this time. To my first grade team, to staff and every part of the Disney community, I have eternal thanks.
My Penguins and Their Families – Thank you for allowing me to leave you for the two weeks in December. I adore each and every one of you and love that you followed me along this way. I can’t even tell you how much I missed you and wished that every single one of you were here at every juncture of this trip. When you posted something, it made me so happy to know that you were connected me from across the planet. You made me so very proud.
Mr. Sanders – My partner in all of this. We share a bond like no other. You gave me permission without even knowing it. You chose to join me beyond our original expedition to the white continent. We extended our adventure together and pushed our limits of cultural comfort, language and social understanding. We changed our lives together; I will be forever grateful to be transformed by this, together with you.
So with that list of thanks, my journey comes to a close. Things begin with excitement and come to a close often with bitter sweetness. It will be wonderful to see my friends, family and kids. I will miss the adventure and will be planning my next travel voyage soon.
Lastly, thank you for following my blog. I give to you something that was given to me through all of this. I give you permission. Permission to run, laugh, play and enjoy. Dream of the places you never thought you could go. Do the things you never imagined possible. When you question if something can be done, do it! A wise, youthful friend once told me, “Book that trip now! If you don’t book it, it will never happen!.” She was very right. If you want live a life of adventure, endless possibilities and dreams, make it happen this very moment.
I extend the permission right now! Go!
Mr. Szymanski is a 1st grade teacher at Walt Disney Elementary School in Chicago, IL. He is bringing the world to his classroom with the help of National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. Here, he chronicles his adventures to Antarctica and South America in December 2014.