Taking Flight by Veronica Padula

*This post is broken into three parts. I hope you enjoy!


Veronica releasing a Thick-Billed Murre on St. Paul Island, Alaska.

Part 1

Ok, I have a confession… here it goes… I’m… 32 years old. Yea, that’s a hard one for me to admit. I realize some of you reading this are probably rolling your eyes at me right now because what is the big stinking deal about being 32, but stick with me. Because I’m 32 and I feel as though I’m only JUST figuring out who I am and what I want to be when I grow up. Because outside forces (read: the rest of the world) seem to tell me that I should really have my act together at this point. Because “adulting” is an art form that I have not quite mastered, although those outside forces seem to suggest that I should have mastered that art form ages ago. What exactly is adulting anyway, right? I tell myself to stop comparing my progress against what these outside forces expect progress to be. This is part of why admitting my age is difficult, I don’t exactly feel like I fit into what I believe that adult category to be just yet, I’m a little different…


Koalas in Australia! This picture was taken at an animal sanctuary there, I was in heaven cuddling this little one

But then again, this feeling of being a little different is nothing new for me, and that feeling is something I’ve always struggled with. When I was little, I had a fleece blanket with rows of little white sheep, with one little black sheep in the bottom corner of the blanket. Guess which sheep I related to the most. I was born and raised in New Jersey, first-generation American on my mom’s side, as she and her immediate family had immigrated to the United States back in the 1970s from Uruguay, and deeply-rooted New Jersey Italian on my dad’s side, going back a couple of generations. On one side of my family, I was practically brand new to the region, and on the other side of my family I was probably related to a quarter of the people inhabiting a 20-mile radius around my house (ok, that might be an exaggeration, but it felt like that!).

Reflecting on it now, I wonder if my younger self considered this as part of why I always felt a little bit different. How did I define myself? How Latin American was I? How Italian was I? How Jersey was I? People often tell me that I don’t sound like I’m from New Jersey when I’m speaking. Have I just never had a Jersey accent because I grew up in a bilingual home, or have I really been away from Jersey for that long? But deep down inside I’d like to think I still have that tough-as-nails attitude and pride that comes with being a Jersey girl. You can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey out of the girl.

But seriously, how did I really define myself? Did I consider those factors back then, or are those questions I am asking myself now? I also wonder if these questions, rather than making me feel a bit different, could have united me with others. It might have taken me time to do so, but as I have opened up to other people about these topics, I have found kindred spirits with similar experiences. Why didn’t I talk about this sooner? Perhaps it takes getting older (I’m careful not to say “becoming an adult” as I do not feel as though I qualify for that just yet) to recognize the need to open up, and I have learned that many of us are similar in that we all feel just a little bit different…


Ice fishing my first winter in Alaska. That fish was quite a catch!

Perhaps some things that stick with me most are the conversations with other first-generation Americans, and the similarities we shared in growing up first-generation American kids. Turns out many of them grew up feeling that the way to honor their parents’ sacrifices (leaving their home country, family, careers to start over, possibly moving to a place where they did not know the language, possibly traveling across dangerous borders) was to have super successful careers, with all the boxes that indicate “adulthood” checked. Seems like many of them felt themselves to be a bit different because of this desire to honor such sacrifices…

Me too. I believed my way of honoring my parents was by becoming a doctor when I grew up. As I was graduating high school, I specifically wanted to become a forensic pathologist, mostly because I watched lots of crime shows with my mom (who doesn’t love CSI or Law and Order?) and I was riveted by the things going on in the morgue. So I entered college thinking I would take the pre-med route, with just a bit of a twist. Instead of choosing Biology as my major, I chose Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology because I thought it would be cool and different to do a study abroad in the rainforest or at a coral reef. As a teenager entering college, choosing something because it seemed cool and different was totally logical. Mainly I was looking for adventure, and never really considered what I might be getting myself into. Little did I know that I’d find my life’s passion outside in nature…





Veronica is a Guest Contributor for Latino Outdoors and is working towards a Masters of Science in Marine Biology at the University of Alaska Anchorage/Fairbanks. If you would like to get in touch in Veronica her email is vmpadula@alaska.edu or follow her on Instagram @vmpadula.


Stay tuned for more!



One comment on “Taking Flight by Veronica Padula

  1. Wayne A. HUGHES MONTILLA Reply

    Hi Veronica, sweet essay, honest and well written.
    Hang tough with your career and love of nature. As a saying goes in Panama, ¡’pa Lante como un elefante! (Unstoppable!) – Wayne

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