It’s been nearly a year since I first stepped off the airplane and onto the island of Grand Cayman. I still remember the way the airport smelled. The air was thick and fragrant. The pungent scents of fish, salt spray, and fruit swirled around me, hinting at the richness of the culture I was about to enter. The week I spent on that tiny Caribbean island was one of the best experiences of my life. With new friends, a camera, and a whole new world to explore, I was, quite literally, in paradise.
Winning the Hands-On Explorer Challenge has opened my eyes to the greater world. My perspective of everything has changed. With help from my camera, I now see everything as a work of art. To me, nothing is unworthy of attention. Beauty can be found in the most unlikely of places. Because I am aware of the seemingly insignificant things in life, I am able to see the whole world as a wondrous place.
I was fortunate enough to go to the 2012 National Geographic Explorers Symposium this summer. There I met several remarkable people who have followed their passion for exploring into adulthood. Seeing the enthusiasm of these men and women was incredibly inspiring. Because of my experiences, I understand that exploring isn’t just a kid’s adventure in the backyard; people actually make it their career. The opportunity to travel and discover seems like such an amazing job. For me, the Symposium was a chance to learn about what it really means to be an explorer. It is up to people like them–like us–to discover and share the beauty of the Earth, so that we will be able to preserve it.
When I first glimpsed Grand Cayman from the air, a spark was ignited in me. It was late at night, and the flickering lights of the island sparkled like jewels against the velvet black of the sea. I thought about all the lives down there; sleeping people in their beds, colorful fish concealed within coral crevices, lizards hidden beneath stones. It was then that I began to appreciate the full extent of the world, and of all the places yet to be explored.