Don't you just love looking at aesthetic Instagram feeds? From mouthwatering food pics to cute new outfit ideas, IG definitely knows how to lure people in.
My favorite feeds are the ones that allow me to dream. Ones that show me what the beautiful world has to offer. @mikeantonio‘s feed is one of those special, dream-inducing accounts.
Blogger (polyglotabroad.com) and student, Antonio, grew up in the States, but now lives the life of a constant traveler. Trekking his way through countries within South America, Europe, the Mediterranean and more, Antonio journeys with an open mind. He immerses himself in each culture and allows it to shape his character and overall outlook on life. In fact he speaks 4 languages fluently (English, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish) and 4 conversationally (Arabic, Croatian, Greek and French)!
He lives his life with the ultimate goal of becoming a global citizen. If that isn't inspirational, I don't know what is!
Read the rest of this post to learn about his interesting quests abroad, struggles with discrimination and helpful advice for the prospective traveler (he's a fantastic storyteller)! Hope you enjoy my little doodles : )
Where are you from originally?
I was born in New York. All of my earliest memories are from where I grew up, a little outside of the city. However, when asked where I am from, I always say Hawai’i. The islands are where I spent my teenage years and have played a larger role in molding me into the person I am today.
How was life in Hawai’i? Why and when did you move there?
Growing up in Hawai’i was an absolutely amazing experience. I moved there in middle school after my father retired. He was a 9/11 recovery worker in New York City and developed a variety of physical and mental health issues after spending over a month at Ground Zero. We were already familiar with Hawai’i, since both of my Italian grandparents had moved there a decade earlier. [My family] decided it would be the best place to live in order to alleviate my dad’s health issues and create a better life for all of us.
Everyone on the outside thinks life in Hawai’i involves going to the beach everyday, surfing nonstop and drinking out of coconuts. This, although a wild generalization, holds some truth.
When I was not studying, some of my favorite childhood hobbies included: jumping off of waterfalls, scaling down 100 foot cliffs, hiking through volcanoes and sneaking into the pools at 5 star resorts. Living in Hawai’i made me an outdoorsy person by default and allowed me to develop a close relationship with nature. Heck, sometimes I would even leave school during my free periods, grab a few friends, and trek through a rainforest to eat Pad Thai under a cascading waterfall.
As far as people go, my island community was essentially one large family. Everyone knew each other in some form and we prioritized the aloha spirit in all of our interactions. There wasn’t a whole lot for us to do outside of nature (we didn’t even have a bowling alley) but we all gathered from time to time at beach parties and house get-togethers.
If you are an adult trying to make a living, Hawai’i might not be the best place to settle down and find a job. However, growing up or growing old in the islands is definitely an experience to be reckoned with.
How was life in Italy? Why and when did you move there?
I generally tell people that Americans know how to work but Italians know how to live. I studied in Italy for a year while in university to familiarize myself with my roots and experience life outside of the United States. This was, without a doubt, the best time of my life to date.
During my stay in Italy, my home base was in Rome. Rome quickly became my favorite place in the world. I would wake up before class and grab a cappuccino at a nearby bar while engaging in small talk with the barman. Between classes, I would relax in the numerous piazzas and devour slices of pizza. Sometimes I would even grab an arancini to-go and eat it slowly in front of the Colosseum. At night, I would invite friends over and we would cook pasta and sip wine. I lived in Rome for one year and I did not even scratch the surface of all of the city’s opportunities.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that Italy is a pioneer in historical preservation. Rome is a living museum and just going on a short walk would take me back in time. Every time I find myself outside of Italy, I yearn to return as soon as possible. I created a life for myself in Rome and I “found myself” in the culture of my ancestors. Not only this, but Italy marked the beginning of my international travels and has allowed me to expand my comfort zone far beyond my greatest imagination.
Lastly, there’s a focus on food and family in Italy that isn’t too common in the United States. My family in Sicily all live on the same exact block within the same small town they have lived in for generations. My American family members, on the other hand, are spread out across the country and some even on different continents. However, what Italy gains in these respects it loses in quality of work life and salary. The dark side to Italy is that many members of my family who stayed behind struggle to make ends meet. The last time I checked, Sicily’s unemployment rate was a staggering 22%. Italy may have a higher quality of life than many places in the United States, but securing steady employment and earning a living wage is another ball game altogether.
How was life in Brazil? Why and when did you move there?
I lived in Brazil for most of 2016 when I was offered an internship position in the city government of Belo Horizonte. My university encourages us to take up to three semesters pursuing “co-ops” in our field of study, so I decided to investigate opportunities south of the equator.
Why did I look towards Brazil? Well, I have been interested in Brazilian culture my entire life and I became enamored with the Portuguese language at a young age. When I lived in Italy, there was no “cultural barrier” I had to surpass, since I was already thoroughly familiar with the Italian culture through my family. However, Brazil was a pretty huge step into the unknown for me.
Once I moved there, my employment and friendships were entirely in Portuguese. This was my first time being completely immersed in a foreign language (In Italy, my classes were in English) and I was absolutely euphoric. Some may call me crazy, but I love living in a place where I can go every day speaking only a tongue that is not my native one.
Living in the Global South was a little bit of a shock for me, but as time went on, I began to fall in love with Brazil along with all of its setbacks and positive qualities. I would always start my day by picking up açaí juice and pão de queijo on my way to work. Afterwards, I would grab a vegan feijoada from a food truck near the main square and chitchat with the owner for at least an hour. Later in the day, I would teach English and grab a beer with my local friends.
Even though I was so far away from home, the aloha spirit was all around me in Belo Horizonte. Actually, come to think of it, I think the Brazilians might have even been more hospitable. I ended up making more friends than I ever would have imagined and the locals accepted me into their community so willingly.
One of my favorite stories to tell is about the time I was robbed. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that two men with knives demanded I hand over my phone to them after work one day. Quite deservedly so, I was terrified (but not as much as my Mom who heard everything on the other end!) In the end, a police car happened to be right near me as it occurred and we ended up speeding through traffic and retrieving my phone back. I was brought to the local police station and proceeded to wait for seven hours to give my statement. Finally, at 3 A.M., a police-woman called me in. She told me how she appreciated my patience and gave me directions on where to proceed for my statement. Afterwards, she kindly gave me her WhatsApp number and told me to call her if I ever need anything. It’s always good to have a contact at the police station, right? Once I gave my statement, I dropped back by her office to collect my belongings. Before I left, she signaled me over, “By the way Antonio, I just wanted to tell you that a few of the guys here at the station and I are going to a club this weekend, would you like to join us?”
Yes, Brazilians are just that awesome! I ended up loving Brazil even more after the incident. It wasn’t just the abundance of tropical fruit juices and the endless partying (nobody knows how to party better than Brazilians, I can assure you) that made my experience in Brazil so great. It was the people. Brazil is no perfect place and there is still so much work to be done in improving the wealth disparity and decreasing violence, but the genuine kindness and happiness I found in Brazil, amongst all of the chaos, makes it one of my favorite places in the world.
I always say that Brazil is the country which adopted me. I am not Brazilian by blood, but even when I walk around here in Europe, some people say I have a Brazilian flair in me. I find it actually extremely easy, now that I have lived in Brazil, to make connections with Brazilians I meet abroad. I feel like cultural and linguistic immersion has allowed me to build bridges that I couldn’t even begin to construct before. For what it’s worth, I will always consider Brazil a second home and I know life will someday take me back.
How is life in Greece? Why and when did you move there?
Greece has been the most random place I have ever spent a prolonged amount of time in. To tell you the truth, I did not end up in Greece because I have Greek blood. Nor did I come here because I have always been interested in the Greek culture. It was actually the cheapest place for me to study over the summer, which would allow me to graduate a semester early.
Although I am technically “living” here in Greece, my stay is extremely short-term, at only around six weeks. I am now at the end of my stay and I can definitely tell you that I have learned quite a few things while being here.
Aside from studying the Greek language, I have learned a lot about Greek culture. Before coming here, I assumed that it would be just like Western Europe in terms of culture and norms. Boy, was I wrong. Sure, the kindness of the Greek population does resonate a lot with its Latin counterparts. However, the prevalence of the Greek Orthodox religion has made culture a lot more conservative than I would have predicted. In fact, out of everywhere I lived, this is the place I have felt most uncomfortable with disclosing my identity as a member of the LGBT community. There is no thriving LGBT scene in Athens as there is in places such as Rome and Belo Horizonte. Most gay couples do not feel comfortable showing affection in public and many LGBT members are still deep in the closet.
Actually, I met a friend of a friend while traveling on a nearby island and she set me aside for a private talk. She said to me, “This may be weird, but I have never met anyone gay before. How does it work?” This was a Athenian 21 year old, who apparently had never met anyone before who was an open member of the LGBT community. I was shocked to say the least.
Just remember that I’m not saying that Greece is a horrible place to be gay. It is more progressive than a great number of countries in the world. However, I was just shocked at its lack of progress compared to many countries in Western Europe.
On a more positive note, the cuisine and history of Greece is absolutely stunning. I find myself constantly indulging in gyros, spanakopita, tiropita, and Greek coffee. If you ever come to Greece, you must try food at a local taverna.
At the same time, walking through Greece is like traveling through a history book. From any point of the city, you can see the Acropolis looming over Athens in all of its glory. The city’s museums are also some of the finest in the world and archaeological sites such as the Agora and Temple of Poseidon are very well preserved for their age.
I also love the phenomenon of island travel. Many Greeks have never left their country, but each summer they travel to at least a couple of Greek islands. I have only been to two, but I can already tell that each island has such a distinct character. They each offer another small piece to the puzzle that is Greek culture.
Lastly, the thing that surprised me the most about Greece is how well Greeks can speak English. In Italy and Brazil, finding English speakers is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Here in Greece, every other person speaks my mother tongue with near perfection! Who would’ve thought?
What do you enjoy about traveling?
First and foremost, I love learning new languages and studying new cultures. I embody this by meeting people from all over the world in my travels and constantly striving to learn more about them. You can say I’m a pretty social person, and I take pride in that.
I also love the memories I make with people I care about. Memories made while traveling form strong bonds between family members and friends. I find it fun reminding my friend about the time he pressured me to slide down a 14-story water slide in Fortaleza or perhaps the time we became stranded in a beach town near Recife. Traveling is as much about the sights and the history as it is about the people you spend it with.
What have you obtained from immersing yourself in multiple cultures?
I feel that immersing myself into multiple cultures has generally made me a more open minded and accepting person. I have realized pretty well that everyone grows up in different conditions and in cultures with different focuses, some with more privilege than others. At the same time, we all strive for happiness. In some places, this translates into hard work and cash. In others, it equates to cooking for a large family in a small village abode. We may have tons of differences on a superficial level, but all of us are human beings who just want to live happy lives.
What is your best travel experience?
This is such a difficult question! Although I hate to be cliché, I think all of my travel experiences have been equally as enlightening. All of the simple moments such as enjoying the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower with my boyfriend and learning how to ride a bike in the Brazilian rainforest have been forever ingrained in my memory. If you ask me for one travel story, I’ll just provide you with a thousand more. Each experience I have outside my comfort zone is an adventure.
What are some customs from the places you visited that you resonate with/enjoy the most?
This may not be a custom per se, but I have always resonated with the hospitality and warmth I see displayed among cultures closer to the equator. In Hawaii, I was raised with aloha, which entails love and acceptance of others. We welcome strangers and strive to maintain a positive, friendly attitude.
I have to say that the funniest thing that happens when I say I am from the United States is that people constantly insist on shaking my hand. No, I don’t do that! In Hawaii we always hug. On that same token, in the south of Italy we tend to greet with two cheek kisses. Then in Brazil, hugs and kisses are also extremely common.
I enjoy cultures which value intimate human interaction and warmth. In some places, usually in colder climates, people tend to be more distant. I understand and appreciate this as a cultural norm, but I personally could never see myself living in such an environment again.
Tell me a bit about your experience as a gay man.
Until now, the hardest part of my experience being gay was before I even completely understood what I was. Back when I attended middle school in New York, I was constantly bullied for acting differently than all of the other boys. I would talk differently and walk differently, so people just assumed I was gay. I had to consciously watch how I was perceived by others at this point in my life and attempt to be “normal.” I had virtually no friends and I was absolutely miserable.
Once I moved to Hawai’i and started high school, the bullying came to an end for the most part. However, I refused to tell anyone about my sexuality nor act upon it. My island was not very large and once someone discovered a piece of gossip, it quickly spread to everyone. There was actually one opportunity in which a gay boy reached out to me and expressed interest, but I was too scared to do anything. I just told him I was not into guys. Instead, I would occasionally kiss girls to try and convince myself and others that I was straight – but I would not really feel anything. My self-esteem was extremely low because no girls seemed to be into me; therefore, I thought something was inherently wrong with who I was. Little did I know that I was just simply seeking out the wrong gender.
Once I started college in Boston, everything changed. At the end of my Freshman year, I finally started exploring who I really was and I soon realized that nobody around me seemed to care as much as I thought. Most people I have met in college have been extremely accepting of me and have encouraged me to come to terms with my sexuality.
When did you come out?
A lot of people have the misconception that “coming out” is a one-time event. However, as a gay person, I can tell you honestly that I will be “coming out” for the rest of my life. The first time I told anyone about my sexuality was at the end of my Freshman year in college. I first started with a couple of friends and then ended up telling my sister – who ended up being bisexual! At the end of Sophomore year, I began to become comfortable with telling more friends about my sexuality and not keeping it a secret. Today, I do not face major issues with telling most friends; however, I do realize that there are times when I should conceal my sexuality. My main issue is telling my family, most of which do not know about me. My father’s side of the family is Italian and very conservative so I don’t think I will say anything unless I absolutely need to (e.g. a serious relationship that would lead to marriage).
Did you face any hardship/prejudice? Did this vary with the different countries you’ve visited?
I actually have not faced any significant prejudice in relation to my sexual orientation. In the United States, granted I am generally near the coasts, I have never had anyone come up to me and say anything truly bigoted. I generally found people in New England, where I study, to be extremely tolerant. I do not yell from the rooftops that I am gay or anything, but whenever I hold another guy’s hand or anything of that nature, it calls basically no attention from anyone else.
I have also found Italy, specifically Rome and further North, to be a bit progressive as well. In Rome, the entire street next to the Colosseum is called “Gay Street” and the largest party of the summer is actually “Gay Village.” Romans from our generation, as far as I have seen, are very supportive of LGBT issues. However, there is a barrier preventing Rome and Italy as a whole from progressing into a visibly pro-LGBT zone. Vatican City lies right in the heart of Rome and it is no secret that Roman Catholicism is still not officially in support of homosexual relationships. However, with the direction the new Pope is heading, I am hopeful for the future.
The largest surprise for me was probably Brazil. Before I arrived in Brazil, I believed it to be a religiously conservative Roman Catholic country. Funny enough, it was the place where I felt the most normal and accepted for who I was, out of everywhere I have ever been. In Belo Horizonte, sometimes I would see more gay couples than straight couples on the street – completely public about their relationship. I talked to my co-worker during my first month in the country and she told me that essentially being gay was “normal” and “not too uncommon”. This completely shattered my preconceived notions about Brazil. Not only that, but I have lost track of how many nightlife options Belo Horizonte has to cater to its LGBT population.
To be completely truthful, there was only one time that I was touring a middle school in the favela with my boss in which I felt a little uncomfortable. A crowd of students surrounded me, excited because I was probably the only foreigner they had ever seen, but one boy asked me loud and clear “So… are you a faggot?” (In Portuguese though, of course). I kindly looked the other way and pretended not to notice. I have learned from my own personal experiences in middle school that people generally come to their senses and gain empathy as they grow older.
Are you active in advocating gay rights? If so, where and how?
I am not an activist myself, but I definitely support the gay rights movement. However, in the future I would love to work on a project involving the LGBT community – possibly relating to travel advice.
What advice would you give to someone afraid to own their true sexuality?
My advice would be to accept who you are and embrace it, because that is what makes you unique! However, never forget about your safety. For all of us who are privileged to grow up in progressive Western societies where being gay has less repercussions than before, there are millions more suffering in places where homosexuality is punishable by death. On the other hand, be careful on when you tell people who have power over you. If you have conservative parents, it might be best to wait until after you are financially independent to inform them. This is not because being gay is wrong, but rather because many people still don’t understand that it’s completely normal and healthy!
In terms of benefits, when I came to terms with my sexuality, I found a source of happiness that I had never known prior. My self-esteem shot through the roof and I was so happy to finally allow myself access to the universe’s greatest gift: the ability to love and be loved in return. Not only that, but I finally felt that I could speak my mind to my friends, whereas before I always had to throw up a protective façade to shield who I was.
Long story short, be proud of who you are – but realize that the world we live in is still not 100% accepting of people like us.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to travel and embrace different cultures?
Go for it! Travel is the best form of education and it has afforded me so many lessons that I would never have been able to learn in the classroom. Not only do we learn more about ourselves when we travel, but we learn more about the world around us.
Why is diversity beautiful?
Diversity is beautiful because it’s what makes us unique. It’s what makes us human. Who would like a world where everyone spoke the same language? A world where everyone looked the same? A world where everyone practiced the same religion? If you ask me personally, that’d just be boring! Each human being has a unique background, heritage, and upbringing which has molded them into the person they are today. We were all born into the same species, but we have expressed billions of different outcomes. Each day I try to remind myself that each person I meet is a teacher. What do I mean by that? Everyone who is different from me has knowledge and experience that I do not. Everyone from the stock trader on Wall Street to the single mom in India trying to make ends meet. That’s diversity at its finest!
What language(s) do you want to learn?
(answer in comment section)
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