Life after Samoa reverted very quickly to reality: I’m back in Seattle, getting ready for the next National Women’s Soccer League season. My trip still feels very surreal. With the abrupt reintegration into normal life, and with few – if any – people around who can really understand all that I experienced and what it meant to me, it sometimes feels as though it didn’t happen at all, or happened in an alternate life.

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It’s definitely difficult to adjust back to the fast-pace nature of life in America, and to the drastic increase in people and stimulation. Even the geography has me overwhelmed or disoriented at times. Naturally, everyone wants to hear about the trip. “How was it?” they ask. “What was your favorite part?” Now that I’ve had some time to digest, I can finally articulate my answers.

“What I loved about my time in Samoa more generally was how full each day was with purpose and substance.”

My trip was incredible. It was everything that I could have ever imagined and planned it to be, and more. If I had to pick a particular activity that was the most fun, I’d probably say the very first River Walk. It gave me my first real impression of Samoa and set the stage for all of the adventures and beauty I’d experience on the rest of the trip. What I loved about my time in Samoa more generally was how full each day was with purpose and substance. I felt like I was running around from event to event from 9am to 9pm everyday, and I was excited about each and every thing that I was doing. I always went to bed feeling accomplished, like I had made the most out of the day. If I had to name one experience that meant the most to me, though, it would be finding and meeting my brother’s birth family. Connecting with them was so unexpected, yet incredibly emotional and rewarding.

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I am, of course, also grateful for the opportunity to have met family that I probably would have not have connected with otherwise. Seeing how they interact with one another and live their everyday lives helped me better understand my papa and grandma, how they bought up my mother, and ultimately how that impacted by own upbringing. So many things just made sense. I think that as humans, we actively seek that meaning, wanting to better understand our roots and origins.

“I am Samoan; I am Brazilian; I am American. I am unique.”

And so that leaves me with the question of identity. Here in America, I’m constantly misidentified, both ethnically and racially. There’s always the uncertainty of where I fit in. I thought that maybe in Samoa, I would have an experience that would lead me to find my niche, but that wasn’t the case. I definitely felt welcomed and accepted, but it was almost always clear that I was American. People could tell that I wasn’t from there and often spoke to me in English. The airport attendant didn’t even know I was Samoan until he saw my middle name in my passport. That was a little difficult for me – to feel this lack of belonging or credibility. I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of aspects of identity and belonging are subjective and fluid. We are not one thing, and we can, therefore, subscribe to several groups. I am Samoan; I am Brazilian; I am American. I am unique. When I drop the insecurities around what makes me different, I am able to better see the commonalities between my various identities, and can gain greater understanding into how individual difference contributes to a greater, stronger overall picture. I do feel more in touch with the Samoan part of me from immersing myself in the country and culture, but overall, I’m still the same Mariah. Actually, I would venture to say that I am a better Mariah. I feel like I have more perspective to offer now.

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I want to end with a few words of gratitude. First, to all who followed my journey – thank you. Whether I know you or not, I think it’s so cool that you took the time to read about and essentially watch this part of my life as it happened. Your comments have brought me such joy, and I feel a sense of accomplishment knowing that you enjoyed my journey, or were inspired by it. Next, thank you to all of the amazing people I met in Samoa. Your hospitality and stories, and our interactions have touched me dearly. Many thanks to my videographer, Zach Fackrell, who not only documented my experience so beautifully, but truly became a partner and friend throughout the entire trip. And perhaps most importantly, thank you to the staff at Passion Passport. The fact that The Bucket List Initiative exists is amazing. I think that making other people’s dreams come true is part of our mission here on earth, and I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to make my own dreams a reality. Keep doing what you’re doing because it’s a great thing. Finally, I encourage everyone to go out and live. Take as much as you can from life, and give as much as you can to others, too. I can’t wait to hear about all of your adventures.

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Tofa soifua. Farewell.           Mariah

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7

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Mariah Meaalii Nogueira is half Samoan and half Brazilian, and was born in Huntington Beach, CA. She graduated from Stanford University in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in Psychology and is currently a professional soccer player in the National Women's Soccer League.