The idea of traveling to Europe has always been a fun idea to me. I imagined sipping coffee and reading in a little café and dressing up to take cool photos in front of the Eiffel Tower. I never dared to make it a goal and get my hopes up. Financially the idea wasn’t plausible. Not to mention it took me forever to set out a plan for college and my future, and there was no room to go off course and jeopardize things. I pushed the dream away and focused on what was in front of me – my first year of university.
I was excited to become independent and live away from home, but took comfort in the fact that my family was a mere two hours away if I needed anything. It wasn’t as if I was left to my own devices. While I enjoyed that year, and made friends I’ll have forever, I never truly felt whole. I liked the university, the people, and the classes, but something was off. I didn’t feel like I was fitting into the setting. I isolated myself and started losing hope that I would find my place. I was not brave or confident enough to take a risk and switch up the path I was on. Then, one day, I received an email that there would be a study abroad fair with information on the various countries my university partnered with for time abroad. It caught my attention. What if I could become someone who went all over the world and embraced new cultures? What if I could live out that suppressed dream?
I went to the information session with my roommate, and decided I wanted to study in Ireland. The fact that I would still graduate on time made it the perfect opportunity to ranch out and try something new. I was absolutely terrified, though. Going from being a two-hour drive away from my family to an eight-hour flight away was a huge deal to me. I got homesick enough being at my college, so I didn’t know what to expect being even further away. What if something went wrong? What if I got lost or scared? I had these “what ifs” and no plan or answers.
My nerves and excitement for my trip rose day by day until September 2015 when I finally headed to the airport, said my goodbyes, and boarded a plane to Dublin with my friend, Katie. Those first few days were some of the most stressful I’ve ever had. I walked into my apartment and it was unfamiliar, cold, and had a musty smell. It all discouraged me and made me question my choice. I sat at the plain wooden desk and laid my head on my arms. It was then that I made the most important decision of this experience. I evaluated my options, and found that the only thing that could stand in the way of my happiness and excitement was myself. So, it was then that I decided to try. I had to give every opportunity my all, and go with the flow, even when it was scary or uncomfortable. When I got homesick, I had to push through, be thankful for the chance to travel, and be strong.
With this one decision, everything after came with relative ease. Katie and I, along with some other friends, began to join clubs, meet Irish friends, and seek out adventure. We began to not fear getting lost, but welcome it instead. I was exhilarated with every new journey. There are many lessons that going to a new country can teach you that a college degree simply can’t. I learned how to handle tough situations without my parents to fall back on all the time. I became comfortable with being vulnerable in unfamiliar places with new people.
With every trip and experience, I found that the emptiness I had previously felt was filling, slowly but surely. Instead of feeling lonely and unsure, I began to feel brave. As I started discovering new cultures, perspectives, and all the beautiful sites Europe has to offer, I began living to learn and grow, as opposed to working hard for approval from other people.
Halfway through my year of studying abroad in Ireland, I began dreading my return to studying in the states. I did not want to go back to feeling isolated and trapped in a routine. I wanted to wake up on the weekends and catch a cheap flight to places like Paris. I longed to continue being surrounded by art, literature, and music everywhere I turned. After discussing the idea with friends and family, my mom said exactly what I needed to hear. She said, “If you are happy and feel you’ve found your place, I want you to be there.” She told me she could see and hear how much happier I had become and how much better off I was there than at my previous college. I had found my place. I felt at home traveling around the world. I knew what I needed to do. I applied to stay at my Irish university, and was accepted not long after. I had gone from a terrified, lonely college student to a strong, independent adventurer.
Since making this decision to follow my heart, my mind has been opened to new ways of looking at life, and I’ve met incredible people who will be in my life for a very long time. Travel has lifted my spirits, encouraged me to dream big, and helped me to believe that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. More importantly, I learned on my very first day in a new country that a lot of the time, we stand in the way of our own success. When we break down the barrier we’ve put up through fear, discomfort, or anxiety, we control our fate and happiness.
I used to be so nervous and afraid. I was scared to leave my comfort zone, to take risks, and to open my mind up to new ideas. I was happy to stay in my own bubble at home. Although I miss my family and friends more than anything sometimes, I’m not afraid to be far away from home anymore. Home has a way of finding me everywhere I go. I not only feel like the void in me has been filled, but I feel that with every passing day, I’m growing stronger and learning more about myself and my capabilities than ever before.