A Girl Abroad

by Carleigh Pierce / May 26, 2014 / 0 comments

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like for your parents to move you to a foreign country at the age of sixteen? Shelby Lewis knows exactly what it’s like. At the age of sixteen, her mom decided to move out of their home town in Missouri and go on a journey, living abroad in Panama.


A Girl Abroad: Shelby Lewis


When did your mom first consider moving to Panama, and why?

My mom first considered moving to Panama in the summer of 2011, after she took a three month job with National Geographic working on geotourism stewardship counsel for a town in Panama, Bocas Del Toro.


How did it make you feel at first to leave your home town and dad behind to live in a foreign country?

Before I moved, I was dead set against it. I was unsure of the life that it would bring, and wasn’t ready to uproot from the life that I had known forever. I felt very intimidated because I was unsure of what to expect. As time went on, I became more accustomed to the idea of moving and excited about the adventures it would bring.


Was your first month living in Panama a culture shock?

Every day in Panama was a culture shock in the beginning. Not only by being surrounded in the Panamanian, Latin American culture but also by the culture of different travelers passing through. Panama was a culture shock to me, until I came back to the United States to visit and felt reverse culture shock, which was much more shocking than the original culture shock I had experienced.


What did this experience teach you?

The experience of living in a foreign country taught me how to adapt to any situation. Being surrounded by a multitude of people and cultures helped me to become a more well-rounded person.


A girl abroad: Shelby Lewis


If you had the choice to go back and change whether you would move or not, would you have made the same choice?

If I had the choice to go back and change whether or not I would move, I would have made the same exact choice. The second time around, I would have jumped into the move with more enthusiasm and eagerness to start the adventure.


How has this experience changed you as a person?

Living in a third world country, I became fully aware of the intense poverty that our world is surrounded with. I also became more aware of environmental issues that completely changed my thinking. I am no longer wasteful with food or water as I had been before I moved, because I have witnessed people who do not have an adequate food supply or clean water supply.


If you had to list three of the most challenging things for you to do during your travels that benefited you after, what would they be?

The most challenging thing for me was learning the Spanish language.
Adapting to the new culture and the other cultures around me was very challenging because I had been so accustomed my own culture.
Trying new foods was another challenging thing for me, because I am such a picky eater.
These three things benefited me the most after coming home from living in Panama.


Was it hard at first to adjust to living in a country with a different native language?

Adjusting to living in a country with a different native language was challenging at first. I had taken two years of Spanish in high school, which gave me the basics of the Spanish language. But it was still very challenging to be living in a country and not being able to properly communicate with people around me.


What most benefited you from living in Panama?

The thing that benefited me from living in Panama the most would be being immersed in the different cultures and learning to adapt to any situation I was being put through.


If you could change one thing about your experience what would it be?

I would change the length of time I stayed. I stayed two years in Panama, but I would have stayed longer if I was able to change anything about my experience.


What first inspired you to start your organization Light the Path?

I was first inspired to start my organization Light the Path when one of our local friends was telling me how his baby was suffering from irregular breathing that needed to be monitored. For this family to be able to check her breathing during the night-without electricity- the husband would have to hold his baby up in the window to let the moonlight shimmer upon the baby’s face to see if the piece of paper taped to her forehead was moving from her breath. This story gave me chills, and that is when I knew I had to do something to help people living without electricity.


A girl abroad: Shelby Lewis, of Light the Path



As a close friend and relative of Shelby Lewis, I have watched her grow as a person from these international experiences. Getting to see her transform from weary of travel to having a passion for it was amazing, and inspired me to visit her in Panama for several months this winter. International experiences can be scary and very challenging; you have to open yourself up to things that are unusual and new to you. But the rewards that come with it can be endless.




Carleigh Pierce is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program


All photos courtesy and copyright Shelby Lewis