“Just because someone is poor doesn’t mean that they’re unhappy”.
Rafael de pena perez’s interview
Thank you so much for your time today. So, tell us about what you do from a travel perspective. I mean, your occupation.
I’m currently a flight attendant for a legacy carrier airline.
Why the travel industry?
I actually went to an art school. I’m also an UX desiger but when I was in undergrad, I began bartending in the airport and I was able to get a job as a flight attendant while bartending, which I thought it was going to be only for a year, but it’s been six years now. I never thought I would do this as a career, but I’ve been able to travel the world and meet so many different people and try different foods. So, it’s definitely a blessing in disguise.
It is a blessing in disguise indeed. So how many countries have you been to so far?
Ah. Well, I’ve never been to Africa or Asia. But I’m going to say like 15. I’ve been to South America, obviously the US, I’ve been to Europe, I’ve been all over the Caribbean, every island in the Caribbean. But I’m looking to go to Lagos, Dakar, and Accra.
That’s nice. So, from your experience, which countries would you consider LGBTQ-friendly?
You know, as surprising as it sounds, I would say the Dominican Republic. And I’m only saying that because the Caribbean islands tend to be a bit homophobic when it comes to being gay. I’ve experienced so many gay clubs, gay marches in the Dominican Republic. When you go to Turkey for instance, you cannot even say your sexuality otherwise you will be jailed. And, obviously, France and Amsterdam are also gay-friendly.
So, do you see a diverse community within the travel industry?
Oh, absolutely. 100%. I feel like the airline I work for employs lots of people of color. And they do a great job in making us feel celebrated and welcomed by celebrating events like Black History Month and having us wear pins that say Black Lives Matter. I feel comfortable being a black man working and even a black gay man working there as well.
And do you feel like you have a voice? It is one thing to employ a person and another to make them part of the decision-making of the organization.
Yes, they do a really good job on listening and solving our problems. And it’s crazy because you could email the CEO of the company. All the 22,000 flight attendants alone can literally email the CEO and he will respond. So, you can imagine the emails coming from the entire department.
That’s interesting. So, what are some of the challenges you encountered in your career as a flight attendant?
- Maintaining a good diet. Like the world is full of different foods and different fruits and different plates. For instance, if you live in America like me, you say to yourself: I am going to be on a diet and I’m just going to eat this and that. It is not easy sometimes because you find yourself in Puerto Rico, and it’s just like they do really great Mofongo. So, you’re like, oh my God, I’m in Puerto Rico let me taste some real Mofongo. When I was in Brussels, they’re really known for their Belgian waffles. And I was like, I am on a diet, working out at the gym but then I was craving for their Belgian waffle.
- The other one has to be with adjusting to a time schedule. In Europe, during summer, the sun doesn’t go down until, like, 11pm which is different from America where the sun goes down at 6pm. So, adjusting your body to the time difference can be difficult sometimes.
I see. So how do you overcome these two challenges?
I meal prep. if I know that I’m going to a place that I’m definitely going to indulge in food, then I meal prep and I also watch what times I eat or I don’t eat. When it comes to the time differences and adjusting to it, I make sure that once I land and I enter my hotel, I nap right away. I customized a special place or special time to sleep.
Have traveling impacted your life? How?
Um, the biggest impact that I’ve had from traveling is that; We’re really not that different from each other. And the world is very small. I’ve been to places in turkey where the children are eating with their hands and growing up in New York City, we don’t really see children barefoot running around. But if you actually look closer, they’re not much different than us.
I also feel like growing up in the middle class you will think that when someone is poor, they’re unhappy. But I got educated through traveling and knowing that just because someone is poor doesn’t mean that they’re unhappy. I had this conversation with my mom that says, how can you miss an iPhone when you’ve never had one? We are spoiled as Americans and traveling has taught me to appreciate the smallest things in life
That is so good. I love that. Thank you once again for your time. I feel so inspired and thinking of becoming a flight attendant now!