Growing up, my favorite television show was The Magic School Bus.
I still remember the wacky adventures Ms. Frizzle took her students on — underwater, into space, through time, even into a dog’s body to see what was inside. To me, the show represented the power and magic of new experiences, and all that was waiting to be explored outside the classroom.
On top of that, her students were diverse, accepting of everyone, and no one was classified as “nerd,” “bully” or “popular” — no one experienced the isolation of a label.
My school was nothing like that. I grew up in a small, poor suburb of San Diego, where the learning happened largely from books and in the classroom. Diagnosed with ADHD and mild dyslexia, I struggled with this one-size-fits-all model of learning, and it made me an easy target for bullies. Over time the bullying increased, my grades decreased, and I began isolating myself. I’d never felt more alone in my life.
Fortunately, my lion-hearted mom sold our house and moved us 20 miles north so she could rent a home next door to San Diego’s best public high school. Unfortunately, I quickly learned, this school had bullies too. But one day, a fellow outsider, who also had a learning disability, invited me to play tennis after school. After that, we started playing tennis every day, and suddenly I had an ally.
His acceptance was my first taste of belonging, and it’s what freed me to become who I am today. Instead of the shy introvert I’d always been, I became more social and looked forward to school; my grades improved enough to graduate and attend college.
Eventually, I had the chance to board a real Magic School Bus — except it was a boat; a miniature cruise ship that would double as our classroom for 100 days as we circumnavigated the globe, docking at 11 countries, in a program called Semester at Sea.
I vividly remember the week we spent docked in Vietnam. Every evening we would leave the boat to explore the market, and to visit the one stall that sold the cheapest beer. The man who ran it had kids who helped him, acting as cashier and bringing drinks to customers. One of them had a brilliant grin and a bowl cut; he couldn’t have been more than 5 years old.
On our last night, when that cute kid grinned at me, I made him an offer. “Take anything in this market, I’ll pay for it. Whatever you want — it’s yours.”
And he knew exactly where to go. He darted to a stall down the street, grabbed this little glass globe, and held it up to show us. He said, “I want this.” It was just a $5 globe, but it made his entire face light up.
In that moment, I was blown away. At the time, I felt sad that he would probably never have the chance to see the world, the way I had. As we sailed away from Vietnam, I laid on the deck and looked up at the stars, and wondered what would become of him.
Now, 14 years later, I wonder: What is he doing? How many of those countries did he get to? And how would his life be different, if he wasn’t anchored to his city, to his father’s bar?
Anyone who has had the luxury of travel can’t help but grapple with their own feelings of privilege; can’t help but wonder why me and not him. But hopefully, this is what helps us return to our lives, and our businesses, with a bigger commitment to carry out in the world.
This is what happened for me.
After the Magic School Bus ship returned to port, I realized my definition of belonging and inclusion had expanded. Ever since then, I’ve devoted myself to breaking down the barriers that keep people feeling separate, isolated, and tied down by a place or a label.
That’s what Pillow is all about: helping eliminate the anchors that weigh us down and prevent us from expanding our horizons. We want to help more people become globally mobile; by providing the means to supplement your income, reduce your rental burden, and travel and work comfortably from anywhere in the world.
Especially against the backdrop of our current political climate — characterized by the rampant narcissism, name-calling, and wall-building of bullies, who are literally building exclusion into our public policy — we can’t think of anything more vital than the need to build empathy across borders.
That’s what travel does. We believe that the more we experience of the world and its differences, the more we can’t help but accept our similarities. As Mark Twain observed: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness… Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
We want to make it super easy to stop vegetating, for anyone who wants to. Our goal is to make global living a right — not a luxury.
We invite you to go to the places that scare you, and sit down to eat with a local. We invite you to exercise your freedom, and to challenge your own definition of belonging.
We invite you to feel at home — anywhere in the world.