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Beyond Dream to Real World Travels

June 13, 2017

By Jenna Shelton

Woman with shoulder length hair and a dark suit jacket smiles at the camera

Jenna Shelton

When I was in first grade, I would come home from school and join my dad in his brown La-Z-Boy recliner, eager to watch the travel channel. Everything else faded away and my dad and I were on our way to an unfamiliar land. My eyes glued to the screen, I watched with childish fervor as a chef from Japan with a tall white hat performed a choreographed Teppanyaki routine. His spatulas danced over the iron griddle while an onion volcano erupted in a blaze of golden topaz.  I sat in awe and appreciation; mesmerized by lands, people, and practices I had never seen before.

As time passed, my father and I took other tele-trips: from a beachy get-away with water so clear that you could see every pebble of sand, to the whimsical architecture of what I would later learn was Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. That was one of my favorites because it looked like a bundle of colorful ice cream cones that you could lick off the television screen. Sometimes we would switch to the cooking channel where Chef Mario Batali would be making homemade Italian pasta which reminded me of Batali’s thin strawberry-blonde hair. I would picture him with a mop of spaghetti falling off his head and my dad and I would laugh. The more I watched, the more I became fascinated with the world beyond my California home in the desert and the more determined I was to build my own adventures. My dad encouraged it.

In many ways, bonding with my dad over the travel channel as a child spurred my interest in learning about international affairs as an adult.  Until recently, I thought that I was only capable of tele-travel because traveling through television is more accessible. Tele-travel allows me to glide gracefully through the cobblestone streets of small cities, rather than slosh-step my way through uneven roads, stubbing my toes along the way. Perhaps because of the passing of my father, I unconsciously grew into the mindset that I, and other people with physical disabilities, are only capable of tele-traveling. I thought that I could never find a career in international affairs as a result of barriers to accessible travel. However, I am starting to unlearn this mindset as a participant in USCID’s Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs Program. I have met other disabled women who have traveled to multiple continents, participated in community-based development, and been involved in foreign affairs. They have shown me that I am capable of traveling and pursing international affairs if I choose.

The few years I spent tele-traveling with my dad were not meant to substitute for travel, but were meant to show me the places I can go. In honor of my dad, I will turn my tele-traveling into a reality when take my first trip overseas to Spain and Italy in August.

Jenna Shelton is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program, to be posted at this blog.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). Jenna Shelton is completing her internship at International Medical Corps. Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or International Medical Corps.

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