Traveling had always been a dream of mine. As a kid, I would often say things like, "one day I am going to climb the pyramids in Egypt." "One day I am going to eat pastries under the Eiffel Tower." "One day, I am going to walk around the Mayan jungle." I'd actually get made fun of in middle and high school for saying things like that because in little rural Lake Placid, FL, no one got out of the county, much less the country. Fast forward many years and I live with one foot in Nashville and another in an airplane.
Although the majority of my national and international travel was work related, I always tried to squeeze in vacation travel. When Covid shut down the world in March 2020, I almost got stuck in Spain but managed to escape in time. Being grounded inside my home for over a year was brutal. I actually missed the smell of jet fuel in the airplane cabin. As we transitioned to work from home, all I could think about was the incredible opportunities this would open up. As long as I have good reliable internet, I could work from literally anywhere in the world, for extended periods of time. As vaccines rolled out and the world began to open back up, I saw the light at the end of the jet way tunnel. And so I packed my bags.
I spent a month working from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. While there, I got to know locals whose second language is Spanish because they are actually Mayan. I rode four-wheelers through the jungle, checking off something 12 year-old me always wanted to do. I spent 5 weeks with my parents in Florida. While there, I got to reconnect with my church family and helped lead VBS for the first time in about a decade. I worked remotely for an additional month in Puerto Rico with family. There were many birthdays that month. Every couple of days after work they would get together somewhere on the island to enjoy food, music and family time.
After Puerto Rico, I headed up to New York City for... you guessed it, another 4 weeks. I stayed with my best friends for the month. It was an incredible experience having 30 days to experience life in a city like New York. Before logging into work, the time difference gave me an extra hour for my morning walks. Lunchtime was incredible because within walking distance, I could find literally any international dish you can imagine. My proximity to Times Square came in handy as we worked with Loomis on our upcoming Advent campaign, which will be featured on several Times Square billboards. I also had the opportunity to network with UMC leaders who would make great storytellers for our Rethink Church content.
Because I am an overachiever, I had to squeeze in another big international trip before the year ends. I decided to head off to Egypt. My flight to Cairo had a 12-hour layover in Paris, so I had a quick day trip before continuing on my journey. I explored the must see monuments and got to check off my biggest childhood dream of eating a ton of desserts and pastries under the Eiffel Tower. I spent three and a half weeks in Egypt exploring Luxor, Alexandria and Cairo by day and working at night. The time difference between Nashville and Cairo is 8 hours, which means that when the workday begins at 9am in Nashville, it is 4pm in Cairo. It was an incredible experience learning about the history of Ancient Egypt and seeing all the monuments. I climbed up the largest of the three Pyramids of Giza, another childhood dream. It was especially cool to see when and where Egyptian history overlap with stories and events from the Bible.
The way Covid-19 shut down the world is something that will go down in history, as will its effects. Although I was losing my mind during lockdown staring at the same walls, I am thankful that I had those walls and a roof over my head. I am thankful that we were able to continue working and transition to remote work. I am thankful that now that things are a little bit more normal, UMCOM has given us the flexibility to continue working remotely. Some of our colleagues have returned to the office, others have moved back to their home states, and some continue to work at home in the Middle Tennessee area. As for me, I will continue to work from home, and the world. You will have to keep an eye on my Zoom box background to see where in the world is Michelle Maldonado.
All photos in this slideshow were provided courtesy of Michelle Maldonado.