Before graduating high school, I went on several college tours with my parents. I visited UMW once in winter and once in spring because I knew it was where I wanted to be. While I was there, I visited the study abroad office and flipped through catalogs. It was still a far-off dream then, but nothing had ever felt so right.
I chose to study abroad during my sophomore year on a whim. Most people go when they’re either juniors or seniors, but I didn’t see any reason to wait. I began the process second semester of my freshman year, but it didn’t really sink in until I got my ticket to London.
I have never been more terrified. I was leaving my crutch of friends and family to visit a country I have never been to, on my own, where I knew nobody. Its a scary feeling to be completely and entirely alone with no one who knows who you are. It really makes you realize how small you are. Yet it made me grateful that I’m the kind of traveler who has somebody to come home to.
I was homesick for a long time, for sure, but I stuck it out. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had and had an unforgettably awesome time along the way.
Before going to France, I didn’t think I could do anything on my own. Now I’ve navigated six different countries a map and some hope. I’m a pretty dang good travel planner too. I knew where I wanted to go and I knew all I had to do was figure out how to get there. I found hostels, apartments, airports, train stations; I booked travel plans and figured out things I wanted to do in these cities without the help of someone older or more experienced. I’ve discovered that if you really wanna go somewhere, all you need is a passport and a plan.
I’ve also realized through traveling that while I love living in the United States and I’m fortunate to have been born here, there’s more than just America out there. I feel that, as Americans, we tend to be be absorbed in our own lives. We don’t see the point of searching elsewhere or even learning about what’s outside. Now that I’ve left my comfort zone, I almost pity people who don’t want to know more than what they’ve always known.
I’m just as guilty as anyone of not exposing myself to the world. Growing up, I never read the news because, first of all, a lot of it is depressing, but I also didn’t see the purpose. Stepping outside of America, I suddenly never felt more ignorant in my entire life. You would be shocked if you knew how many people know the history, current events, and politics of our country as well as several others in addition to their own. I knew next to nothing about the places I visited. I never wanted to live up to the stereotype of the uneducated American, but that’s what I sadly felt I was doing. And there’s no excuse for it. You can blame it on the education, the government, your parents, whatever. But at the end of the day, you live in a free country and you have access to information, especially in an increasingly globalized world. All you have to do is read.
Just as I know I lack some education, I surprisingly found out that the stuff I thought I didn’t know perfectly was actually there when I needed it. I wasn’t sure how well I would do in France. I didn’t want to say anything in French for fear it wouldn’t come out right or I wouldn’t have the ability to say what I needed to. I think it was mostly a confidence thing because it turns out that it was all in the back of my head. Of course I made dozens of mistakes, and I’m no where near fluent, but I’m a lot farther than I used to because I found the courage to use what I’ve learned.
I’ve also uncovered the most important lesson I’ve ever been taught. When you have an amazing opportunity, especially one that comes with such anonymity as mine does, enjoy it. I made the huge mistake of bringing up past issues that nobody needed to know about during the first part of my trip. I had a chance to move on, but I kinda blew it during the first one or two months. Luckily, I realized what I was doing earlier on to fix it, but my visit could’ve been so much easier if I hadn’t done it do begin with.
Finally, I don’t want this to resemble the appreciation section of a novel or something, but I really am thankful for the people who helped me to do this, and I want to express that. The UMW Study Abroad office did an excellent job of helping me plan my trip. From my first French teacher to my last French professor, they all gave me the instruction I needed and helped me to realize that my biggest love is French. Last but not least, my Uncle Bubba and Aunt Fanny, my grandparents Anthony, Roberta, Judy and Leonard, and Jill, Dave, my mom, Michelle, and my dad, Richard, gave me an incredibly enormous amount of support and help to get me to where I am now. I won’t ever forget that. Thanks guys!
And that concludes this journey :D