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Not just any plane adventure

For civics and economics teacher Will Lares, the world is a book he can’t put down. Each new country is another chapter under his belt, and after visiting numerous countries, from Brazil to Morocco to Korea, he still hasn’t had enough.

Having grown up in Walnut, Lares was not entirely aware of what was beyond his home until he enrolled in the Semesters at Sea program at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. The program offered global study abroad for four months, providing 12-15 credits per semester.

“I think, like any other typical young person, I knew what I knew inside of my bubble, but I had no idea there was a space outside that I didn’t know anything about, and I didn’t fully comprehend or understand,” Lares said. “Going outside that bubble for the first time was crazy; it felt like a whirlwind. It was nothing I was used to.”

Stepping foot in an unfamiliar country is a daunting task for many, but Lares approaches every new encounter with enthusiasm. Since his first venture, Lares has visited a total of 23 countries, each one opening new doors to the life beyond.

“When you go to another country, everything’s different, everything’s new and you want to take it all in through all your senses,” Lares said. “You step off the ship, you go into the country and your senses are bombarded. You want to see it, you want to feel it, you want to taste it, you want to smell it.”

Semester at Sea expanded Lares’ limited perspective of the world around him. Experiencing cultures from places like India, Korea and Vietnam opened up his mind to new ideas.

“Traveling made me really nonjudgmental of people,” Lares said. “Clothes, the way they speak, the way they think. I always feel like if you grow up in that environment, you would be like that, and it would be normal. How can you judge someone [for] growing up like that?”

Lares’ capability of looking past initial impressions became an integral part of his character, which he relates to every aspect of his life, including his job as a teacher.

“I feel like you should get to know the person, not what you think or what you see,” Lares said. “I think that’s true with students. The way a kid dresses, whatever it is, I don’t judge on the outside. I talk to them and get to know them on a one-on-one basis, and they are who they are from their core not from their shell.”

From helping out in the classrooms of India to joining a Habitat for Humanity project to build homes in Honduras, Lares has also taken the opportunity to give assistance to those in need during his travels.

“Giving back was unbelievably rewarding. People don’t have much, but if you can do something for them, it’s awesome,” Lares said. “Being open to people and their cultures is good. It might not be what I’m used to, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. The ability to connect with people is huge for me. I feel like I can connect with anyone because traveling has taught me so much about how to reach somebody’s essence and connect with them.”

Lares found that, in traveling, he not only discovered the rest of the world but also himself as a person.

“You find out who you are because you’re in an uncomfortable situation, and sometimes you’re by yourself, and you figure out a way to get things done,” Lares said. “Life is the same thing. Things are going to happen, things are going to be uncomfortable, and you’ve never done it before. You don’t know how you’re going to get through it, but you figure out a way.”

By Gabrielle Manuit, Copy editor 

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