Updated: Jul 13, 2020
| This is the 57th story of Our Life Logs |
I lived my entire childhood out of a suitcase, and believe it or not, I loved it. I am the second child of six in my family, four girls and two boys. We traveled from country to country and town to town during the first 15 years of my life, as our parents worked as social workers for non-profit organizations and took us all over the world. We moved a few more times after I grew up. Our nomadic lifestyle had left different imprints on me and my siblings. For me, it was a lot of fun. I saw each move as the start of a new adventure.
I was born in Chile in 1981. Shortly after I was born, my parents took us to Peru where we stayed for a brief period of time before moving to Spain. We lived in Spain for about eight months and then moved on to England. After England, we relocated to Asia. We stayed in Bangladesh first, followed by India and Pakistan. Pakistan was one of the few places I have more recollections about. We stayed there for about three years until the Gulf War made the country a difficult place to live. From there we moved back to Chile and then to Bolivia before we settled in Colombia for most of my teenage and young adult years.
Moving around was fun and exciting for me as a child. I learned to speak multiple languages. But our instability did make schooling a little difficult. I didn’t get much chance to go to school, so most of my education was received through homeschooling by my parents. I did study at a boarding school for about a year while we stayed in India when I was little and was able to take some courses for an associate’s degree later when we settled in Colombia. I cherished the opportunities to study and learn, and if an opportunity arises today, I would consider going back to school for further education.
I was raised with family-oriented values. We were expected to follow our parents’ footsteps and be devoted to social work. After we settled in Colombia in the late 1990s, my parents started our own foundation to help the less privileged. We built a learning center free of charge to kids that needed a place to go after school. We provided tutoring and extracurricular activities for them, such as dancing and soccer. As I grew up, I became a teacher there and did my best to give those kids a safe space to learn.
Our school was in a dangerous part of the town. Many gangs resided in the area. I remember one day when we were having a class, a gang rushed in and used our school building as a hideout during a shootout with another gang. It was quite an experience. Other times we would hear the gangs recruit kids to help them with illegal activities, like delivering drugs. It was sad to see how these kids were brought onto a wrong path at such young ages. Through our foundation, we tried our best to provide opportunities for the children to stay safe and prepared for a better future.
I loved working with children. Teaching them brought me a great sense of comfort. Many kids worked hard to break out of the restraints of their background. It was amazing. Some of them would come from very far away, walking up and down the mountains, to attend classes at our learning center. They wanted to change their lives. It could be difficult to break the cycle they were in, but when some did eventually break through, it was incredible to watch.
Helping others was always my passion, although throughout those years working for the foundation, I did have had moments when I doubted my lifestyle. We had been taking care of others our entire life, but what about ourselves? What about our own future?
At one point during my teenage years, I rebelled. I didn’t want to work for my family’s foundation anymore. I desired a chance to cultivate my own experience. I wanted to begin my own adventure and start to take care of myself. I went out and got a paid teaching job at another school.
I taught there for a couple of years before I realized that working for my family’s foundation didn’t mean that I had to do it the exact same way that my parents did it. While I took care of others, I could still do things for myself. I could experience a little bit of both worlds. There just needed to be a balance.
Upon deeper refection on my life, I went back to work with my parents at our own foundation. Later, when my mom got sick and my parents moved to live in Spain, I continued to run the foundation, but moved over from teaching to the administrative side of it.
I met my husband while I was working at our foundation in Colombia. He had a similar upbringing to mine with parents working for a social group that encouraged travel. We were both so accustomed to moving that we moved a good number of times while together. As we moved around doing social work, we had our three children that changed our life for the better. Our first child was born in Colombia. Not long after that, we moved to Mexico in 2005 for a couple of years where our second child was born. After Mexico, we moved back to Colombia in 2007 where our third child was born. The next year, we moved to Venezuela and then back to Colombia two years later.
With three kids to provide for, we started to think more about ourselves. We wanted to create a better life for our children. While I enjoyed all the travelling growing up, I didn’t want my children to experience the same instability. I wanted them to have a stable life and a sense of belonging that was absent in both my husband’s and my early life.
In 2012, my husband made a bold decision to break away from his social group and begin a new life. He started a corporate job at a for-profit company, while I continued managing my family’s foundation. Working for profit was frowned upon by the social groups we were a part of that believed serving others was the main priority and moving around was the life meant to be lived. But we decided that we could help others and help ourselves at the same time. We knew that was an adventure worthwhile to take.
When my husband’s job relocated him to the United States in 2015, I passed our foundation down to another organization we used to work with and moved with him and our kids. It was not easy to leave Colombia and leave everything behind, but we figured it would be good for the kids. They needed a safer environment and stable education. The United States was the beginning of a new chapter and a new adventure, and I was excited to see where it took us.
I love the wide perspective of life and cultures that I have witnessed from all the traveling I did in my early life. These experiences have helped shape me as a person. They have made me more empathetic, more understanding, and more adaptive. Throughout my social work experience, I have also come to realize that helping others and caring for ourselves don’t necessarily contradict each other. We just need to maintain a balance. Since we moved to the United States three years ago, I have been volunteering in ESL programs and in soup kitchens to continue the ideals taught by my family to serve others.
Learning about all the different cultures taught me how unique and special we are as people. We only have one life to live, so I make the best of each day with the people I love. Because of my early adventures, I now treat every day like an adventure.
This is the story of Isabel Matas
Isabel currently lives in Mason, Ohio with her husband and three children. She moved all around South America, Europe and South Asia following her family’s volunteering up until she was 15. Growing up in a social group that only allowed voluntary work, Isabel learned from a young age the importance of servitude to others. She and her husband had similar upbringing which brought them close to each other. Together, they broke free from the mold and carved their own path. She sees all the moving she did as a positive thing. Each move was a chance for another adventure.
If you would like to share in the life journey of Isabel’s husband Andres, click here.
This story first touched our hearts on November 8, 2017.
| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker; Manqing Jin |