By: Teresa Ling, a Foster student majoring in Marketing and Information Systems, with a minor in Diversity. She participated in the summer Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity (OMAD) Tahiti study abroad program.
I was born and raised a “city girl:” I’ve been wandering urban streets since before I ever sat behind the wheel of a car and I’d gladly hop on a bus or subway to find adventure among the next set of skyscrapers. On any given weekend in Seattle, you’ll find me wandering around Post Alley observing tourists or sauntering down the streets of Capitol Hill looking for cheap pizza. But deep down, I crave the outdoors: stomping around in mud, hiding from mountain goats, and sleeping under the stars without a single spark of city lights around. During my last week in Tahiti, we spent three days camping in the heart of the island at Maroto Valley. On our second day there, the program advisors informed us to put on some casual walking shoes for a brief “walk,” which led to just about every student strapping on a pair of ordinary flip-flops: the go-to walking shoes for a day in Tahiti. Five minutes into the walk and I realized that my flip-flops were either going to carry me a good two feet per minute or leave me flat on my face in the mud. In other words, they were not cut out for the brief “walk,” which we all quickly learned was, what back in Seattle would be considered, a hike without much of a trail. Instead of missing out on the hike or having to worry about slipping and falling every other minute, I slipped off my shoes, threw them in my daypack, and went about the rest of the day barefooted.
It was in the following moments that I, for the first time in the trip, felt that I had truly embraced Tahitian culture. This is a country where it’s the norm for people to walk around the city with no shoes because they simply cannot afford it. But they don’t moan and groan about blisters or calloused feet: they carry on each and every day with smiles strewn across their faces going about their day-to-day lives. In an urban city like Seattle, I would not feel comfortable walking around barefooted, for fear of stepping on used needles, broken beer bottles, or dog poop. Yet here I was in the mountains of Tahiti leaping from rock to rock and prancing through muddy fields without a care in the world. The only thing on my mind was the beautiful lush scenery surrounding me, the random waterfalls, and when the next body of water to swim in would appear. I ended the hike with several cuts on the bottom of my feet, but also with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and rediscovery. This was just one of the many times Tahiti taught me how to enjoy life without the material items I feel like I can’t live without in Seattle. Tahiti stripped me of a laptop, cellphone service, and reliable access to the outside world among many other things. And this time around, Tahiti took away my shoes. In Seattle, I’d rather give up my cellphone than have to walk around with no shoes – but my barefooted adventure in Tahiti reminded me how to immerse myself in my environment and to enjoy life as it is given to us, one barefooted step at a time.