Senior Gina Cardini, along with her parents and younger brother, visit the Taj Mahal on one of the many excursions the family took during their time living in India. “I cherish those six years of my life with all my heart,” Cardini said. “Everything that I've done in those six years are literally some of my favorite memories in the world.” (Photo courtesy of Gina Cardini)
Portola High School

Citizen of the world: Gina Cardini

“It’s beautiful being a citizen of the world. That’s what I call myself, because I don’t really have a home or a place to call my home,” Gina Cardini said.

Over Zoom, I watch as a wistful smile blooms across senior Gina Cardini’s face after she shares this self-perception with with me, and all at once, I feel a sharp longing for the pre-COVID days of travel. I’m sure Cardini can empathize with this feeling better than anyone else, having spent most of her life abroad, moving from country to country.

Cardini was born in Barcelona, Spain, and her childhood consisted of impromptu trips to the beach on blistering days and picnics in front of churches with tolling bells. After nine years, however, her parents relocated jobs, and the Cardini family moved to Rosario, Argentina into the house across the street from her grandparents. 

“Having moved so many times around the world hasn’t really allowed me to get to know my family on a deep level, because I’m always far away from them,” Cardini said. “And the only time I truly see them is when I travel, which is not very often, especially now with the pandemic. So I really cherish those memories that I’ve made in Argentina, because I’ve been able to get to know my family for who they really are, not just from a photo.”

Though the shift to Argentina came with a drastic change of scenery and the loss of her friends, Cardini adapted fairly quickly since she already knew how to speak Spanish and had visited the country often in her youth. 

The same cannot be said for her time living in Pune, India.

When I ask about her experiences in India, Cardini let out a soft laugh and said, “I came out a completely different person than when I came in.”

Unlike Barcelona or Rosario, which are heavily urbanized cities, Pune is more rural. There’s mirth in Cardini’s voice as she recalls the cows aimlessly walking the streets. 

But, in her opinion, the most striking difference is the culture, specifically the language barrier; Cardini was pushed to learn English in a span of three months to prepare for her new school.

According to Cardini, those six years in India were integral to her understanding of love, which I fully understood after she told me that her best friend still lives in Pune and that they talk regularly, despite the miles between them.

“I think that having my teenage years in India has definitely formed me a little different,” Cardini said. “Because during your teenage years, you do form yourself and your personality. I had grown very used to the culture and the population in India, so it was a little bit shocking to try to integrate myself to a completely different society.”

This “completely different society” Cardini refers to is none other than Irvine, Calif. She arrived when she was 16, and immediately that familiar teenage fear of ostracization took over. In time, the trepidation faded, but not without some help. 

“How I got used to it was just having the constant support of my family and my parents,” Cardini said. “It’s a never give up kind of situation, because if you just suddenly want to give up, you’ll become close minded and just say, ‘I want to move back’ … We were progressive. We marched through, and we got used to it and we adapted. And now we miss every place that we’ve been.”

In a fitting turn of events, Cardini ends our interview by regaling me with her upcoming plans to return to Spain for university, to settle into a home. Her 18 years of traveling have already left their mark though.

“It’s made me very open minded,” Cardini said. “It’s made me very accepting. And it’s also made me very loving. I do think that having lived in many different cultures, having tried a lot of different food and just basically having observed how different people live their lives, has definitely shaped me into a more understanding person, free of judgment, free of anything.”