Seizing “First-Time Opportunities”

NANDI Nandi1

Age: 22

Major: Studying Public Health and Spanish at University of Maryland

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Where have you traveled?

I lived in Costa Rica for four months and visited Panama, Brazil, Antigua. While my heart beats for international travel, I don’t neglect the treasures that lay domestically. I’ve been to about 12 states and counting. Outside looking in, it may seem that I’m always on the go but I like to take my time with my travels and really get to know a place as much as I can. I’m not traveling for the sake of travel or for the passport stamps. It’s truly for the people met, the late nights, missed flights, new and lost loves, breath taking sights, personal growth and experiences. I chose Costa Rica because my high school teacher who encouraged my Spanish development is Costariccense—so that was sort of to pay homage to someone who paved the way for me. I’m West Indian, so naturally the Caribbean countries will know me. As for Brazil, I had the opportunity to explore what Afro-Brazilians experience, and I’m always down for any Black and beautiful learning experience.


Cachoeira, Brazil

Cachoeira, Brazil

What inspired you to go abroad?

My parents always taught me that there is life outside the town you grow up in, no matter how much you love it. The world is a vast place. So moving from New York City to a southern town wherein people are born, live, and die was probably the driving force of my travels. Meeting people in high school and even college who classify the entirety of the Caribbean as “Jamaica” inspired my travels. I knew that I couldn’t change the perspectives of those people with mere words, but that by ensuring my worldview is progressing upward, I could show them the door leading out of their town and into the world. I read a lot, and it is said that a good book will take you to places you’ve never been. But that alone just wasn’t good enough for me. I needed to go to the places I was reading about, breathe the air, engage the people, and speak the language. All things considered, there are 196 countries, which allows me to safely assume that my personal mantra is true– life is not meant to be spent in one place. I grew up in NY, attended secondary school in SC, and moved to MD for undergrad. I didn’t know it then but those small life moves were setting me up to have an insatiable thirst for travel.


What has been your best experience? Worst experience?

My best experience this far was living in Costa Rica. Because of that experience, I can say I have roots in the country. I have friends, and family that I can always go back to visit. I love my host family and they love me; we’re friends on Facebook and whatsapp! They tell me they miss me and how much it meant to have me as their daughter for the time I was there. That means so much to me. The guys I met there were…the sweetest and most kind. I perfected my handling of the Spanish language and as a result am bilingual. There are schools there that I would love to have my children (when I have them) attend where I know they’ll get a worldly lens. I can dance a vast variety of Latin Dances impressively, my bests being bachata and merengue. Being able to see the close similarities between Latin and Caribbean culture, made me so happy. The lifestyle there suited me well; I started my days early, ate healthy, traveled domestically inexpensively, and worked out and loved every minute of it. Pura Vida! (Costa Rica’s motto, translating literally to ‘pure life’ but loosely as ‘full of life’, ‘real living’, ‘plenty of life’; used as a greeting or farewell.)


Worst Experience: I went to Panama for a week and didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I wanted. Why? One night our

Panama City, Panama

Panama City, Panama

group went out for dinner at the start of the trip. We went to this awesome restaurant built on the mar that had swimming holes situated throughout the restaurant. Literally…the ocean was steps away from our table. After we ate and danced, we were all socializing and people decided to go swimming in their undies (as none of us had brought swimwear to dinner).They were doing backflips into the mar and having it up! My conservative friends from the program were discouraging me but I had to join—it was a first time opportunity! (I don’t believe in once in a lifetime.) So, I did a smooth front flip in (with my clothes on) swam about for a bit. I’m swimming around and decide to get out. At that precise moment I decided I was over it, I sliced the bottom of my foot on something crazy sharp in the water. Have no idea what it was. Could have been coral or a rusty pipe, who knows? All I know is I had this 2 inch gash, gushing blood, on my foot. These (cute) guys at the restaurant bandaged me up and I got dressed and prepared to head home. This guy from the program offers to carry me home. Cool. Worst mistake of my life. He was inebriated and drops me, and to add insult to injury I get glass stuck in my toe of my other foot. So I end up in the bathtub of the hotel, screaming as my friends play doctor and pull the glass out of my toe, while my other foot is on fire with pain. Our program coordinators take me to the hospital where thankfully I didn’t have to get a tetanus shot but was administered a painkiller injection to the culo (they love to give vaccinations in the backside in Latin America I learned). It hurt. I didn’t get to dance the night away with the cute guy at the bar, I missed a boat ride and seeing where Survivor was filmed, and was always last to everything–all because I couldn’t walk flat on my foot. -_- The WORST.

Now, I have to go back and re-do Panama and get to know it because I missed out on so much because of my lame foot (which is now fully healed).


How did you hear about these opportunities?

I frequent the study abroad site for UMD, just to see what I can finesse and milk from the university. But most of my travelling I come up with and plan on my own. I keep a running list of friends, family, and acquaintances that I have in various countries, cities, and states. This makes for less expensive travels as I’ll usually have a place to stay comfortably. Outside of housing, it’s always nice to have someone you know in an unknown place to look out for you and show you the gems of that particular place. As vacations/breaks approach in school, I refer to my list to see what move I would like to make and start coordinating.

People watching in Parque Central, Heredia, Costa Rica

People watching in Parque Central, Heredia, Costa Rica

How did you fund these opportunities?

I mostly save to fund my travel. Because I typically plan far in advanced, I start saving for the flight and lodging as soon as I can. I put a certain percentage of each paycheck from my job aside to go toward anything I want. I mean I don’t have many bills to pay, I’m not much of a shopaholic—what else should my money go into besides a rewarding and memorable travel experience? I read a quote once on the Humans of New York page that said “travel as much and as far as you can while you’re young, even if you have to borrow money to do it.” While non-conventional, I do if I have to. My family will give me what they can when I tell them I’m planning a trip and I do good deeds to “work” it off. I funded my Brazil study abroad trip with a crowd funding website, I shared that on every social network I have until I reached goal. I also look for scholarships and financial aid opportunities for study abroad. I take advantage of our international studies and diversity offices on campus for funding. I try to do a lot of travel as study abroad as well, because there is no cheaper and quality travel than when you’re in school! Yes there will be work, but what is the sense in traveling without learning? Being away from the US is relaxing and vacation enough, but I use my travel to learn something…anything.


Underground Atlanta, Georgia

Underground Atlanta, Georgia

What have you learned from your travels?

I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve learned to keep my travels private to an extent. Why? Because people have a tendency to live vicariously, instead of just doing what it is they desire. If I post my entire photo album from Costa Rica or my zip-lining video, yes it may encourage them to go and do what I have done but it may also encourage a sense of complacency! As I travel, people tell me to keep going because my 20s are the best times of my life. I’ve learned that my life is the best time of my life. I can do this for as long as I want. Married? I’ll take my husband. Children? They’ll learn Spanish and come too. Life commitments shouldn’t hold me down and discourage learning and horizon expansion. Honestly, to go into detail about other cultures would take another interview but there is beauty and mystique in EVERY culture. I’m a picky eater, I’ve found. Willing to try a lot but very picky. My street smarts have amped up—getting your freshly cashed wallet stolen at a police station of all places will teach you a lot. In regards to people…wow- people are just people. It takes meeting and living with people that I’m unaccustomed to dispel preconceived notions, stereotypes, and judgments. Traveling is the one thing that tests my patience to the max…but I’m able to remain level-headed. I’ve become confident in my travel knowledge and abilities to where I can book trips for others and lead groups. I’ve learned to take the time to myself…observe, people watch, appreciate nature, etc.


Where do you plan to visit in the future?

I’m very interested in Latin American and Caribbean people and culture so I intend to travel to every country

Swimming with Stingrays, Stingray City, Antigua & Barbuda

Swimming with Stingrays, Stingray City, Antigua & Barbuda

classified as Latin or Caribbean. I know I want to go to Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and Egypt. I have to go to Australia, because it’s trill– it’s the only continent country. I’m not closed to anything, as long as there is a culture to learn about—I’m down for it. As for up and comings on my calendar, I have Antigua this July, next October–Miami for Carnival, next winter Ghana, Spring Break 2015 –Paris, Summer 2015 Barbados for CropOver, and February 2015–Trinidad and Tobago. I’m always looking for dedicated travel groups and partners so if you’re up for it hit my social media page and we’ll make something happen!


Want to see more of Nandi? Follow her on twitter and instagram @TheNandiLion, friend her on facebook as Debz Nandi or email her at!