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I recently got a new passport, and before I sent it in, I couldn’t help but reflect about what it means to me and how this little booklet has changed my life.

My parents introduced me to travel at a very young age, so this wasn’t my first passport, but travel took on a different meaning for me in my adult life, specifically college, starting with a summer study abroad trip to Chile. It was there in a Chilean homestay, during a very frigid summer (fall/winter in South America), that I truly began to develop an appreciation for interacting with and learning about new cultures. Even though Chile is a middle-income country and is, in some ways, more advanced than the United States, it was still quite eye opening to be exposed to a different way of life. Simple things I took for granted, such as central heating, were a luxury afforded to few in Chile. I know this is also the case for many Americans, but to a wide-eyed college student who had grown up in an abundance of privilege, this was a new experience for me. This was my first trip abroad alone, and arguably what ignited my passion for travel (although my parents planted that seed when I was very young!).

My eyes were opened even wider when my passport (and a little help from a visa) took me to India during graduate school a few years later. My internship in India lasted three months and during that time I observed how some of the poorest people in the world live. That trip changed me. I am now longing for another trip to a developing country because it’s a truly humbling experience that puts life into perspective for you. It’s easy to live in a Western bubble and block out what’s going on around the world.

When you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture, you learn a lot about how the world works, and a lot about yourself.

The privilege to move about freely in this world is one we cannot take this for granted or underestimate its importance. This little blue booklet allowed me to have some of the most transformative and unforgettable experiences of my life. Flipping through it, browsing the stamps, I can taste the masala dosa and alfajores. I can smell the Maldivian water and feel the Abu Dhabi heat.

While it will no longer serve as my gatekeeper to the world, I shall never forget what I’ve learned while using it.