The Reality of Travelling

When I look back at my gap year experience, I often think of one person who I met for just one night. On a late night in San Juan, a couple friends and I were walking on the beach when we found a group of people having a bonfire. The group of people greeted us as soon as they saw us and we quickly realized they spoke only Spanish. Being the friendly people that we are, we walked up to the group of people and tried our best to communicate. We quickly began playing a game of fútbol (or as us Americans call it, soccer) and started to bond with the local Puerto Ricans. Soon enough, the Puerto Ricans started offering us glasses of wine, since the drinking age is only eighteen, and our bonfire became a party. Between my broken Spanish skills and the Puerto Ricans’ broken English skills, we were able to find out the names and some stories behind the Puerto Rican locals. The one person that stuck out to me was a local named Jorge. Jorge was the first person to greet us when walking down the beach and had an insightful perspective on foreigners like us. Despite having trouble communicating, Jorge is an extremely bubbly and loving person. He spoke of how he loved foreigners coming to the island of Puerto Rico and enjoying the culture. However, the key point he made to us was to be respectful and to understand that the island is not just a vacation spot for tourists, but rather a diverse island with a rich culture and history. Jorge also explained some graffiti that can be found on the streets of San Juan. Many buildings and businesses, usually the companies run by foreigners, have been graffitied with the writing, “Act 22 = Racismo”. Jorge explained to us that Act 22 is a law that allows foreigners to operate their businesses in Puerto Rico tax-free. However, the tax benefits are only offered to foreigners and Americans moving to Puerto Rico, and the local Puerto Rican people are still forced to pay tax to the US government. Obviously, Act 22 is not fair to the Puerto Rican people and allows the US government to exploit the livelihood of many. A solution to problems such as unfair taxation is unclear and difficult, but I personally believe as a country we need to be far more transparent and ethical. Ultimately, I look back at my gap year experience and see that a complete stranger named Jorge was able to educate me on the nature of Puerto Rico and the exploitation of governmental powers. 

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