When you ask someone what is the one thing they want to do in life or wish they had done more of, the answer is usually “travel”.
Many people find the idea of traveling fascinating and often wish they had taken more opportunities to do it—and while traveling may be on most peoples’ minds, saying you want to do it and actually doing it are two very different things. It is much easier to say, “I want to travel after college”, but it isn’t so simple when you have finally decided to travel and a week before you leave and you suddenly realize you are about to leave everything familiar behind and go someplace entirely new. I know this conflict of feelings from experience as I traveled to study abroad my junior year in college to London, England. In the months before leaving I felt on top of the world, a week before departure I suddenly worried I would never survive the journey, and after a day of being abroad, I never wanted to return home.
Leading up to my departure I felt very prepared to take on the journey. I had crossed all my T’s and dotted my I’s with my extremely helpful advisors in the Education Abroad office at my home school, Bowling Green State University in Ohio. I would be going home for winter break and knew I would then have the whole break at home to prepare for my travel date on January 21st, 2013. Once at home over winter break, I enthusiastically told everyone about the journey I was about to embark upon and everyone was extremely excited for me. In fact, the more I talked about it, the more excited I got. However, as the weeks went on and everything became more real with the approaching departure date, I started to get nervous. I was going completely alone and even though the United Kingdom is still a Western culture and fairly similar to the United States, I was still nervous to make the big leap over the Atlantic. Millions of questions were crossing my mind about the classes I would take, the place I would be living, the people I would meet, the food I would have to eat; it was all very nerve-wracking. The day before I left had to be one of the hardest days; I was almost sick with the thought of leaving and being on my own in a new country. Although this was hard, I was still excited enough that I successfully said goodbye to my parents and boarded the plane. My adrenalin took over on the flight and I didn’t sleep for a second, even though I flew through the night. With the winning combination of no sleep and the time difference, I was in a very bad place entering London.
The next step in my journey was to meet up with my bus and get to the dorm where I would be staying. When I got to the dorm it all hit me: I was extremely homesick. I immediately called my mom saying, “I don’t think this is for me”. I remember being very upset, even though I tried not to be because I knew it would just upset my mother. I tried to hold back the tears but knew that my voice was giving it all away; I felt so alone. I remember thinking I was not going to make it through this experience, though I hadn’t really given it much of a chance. That night, a bunch of us from the dorm went out to a pub across the street and got to know each other. As I started interacting with others, I began to feel more comfortable and have the realization that we were all in the same position. We had all come on our own and all had similar fear, which in turn, left me feeling less afraid. By the second day in London, I was over my homesickness and ready to take on this experience with an open heart and mind. I was never homesick again for the rest of the trip; somehow it had only taken one day to overcome.
In telling my story what I hope to convey is this: despite doubts, you can do this.
If you take the leap, you can travel abroad on your own and carve your own way. You can adapt yourself to all kinds of situations, so long as you are open minded and willing to learn. Learning to adapt to the new situations thrown at me taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to. While these situations may even seem like the smallest thing at the time, what you learn from them is remarkable, because you learn to be on your own and survive. When I came back from being abroad, this was something I wanted everyone to know. I wanted to let others know that you can’t let your fear get the best of you and rather you have to face into it, because being abroad is undeniably one of the best ways to discover whom you are. Being surrounded by people who are different from you and live in a different culture not only opens your eyes to great things, but also teaches you of your own identity.
That being said, I think one of the main reasons people do not travel is due to fear, but after my experience I realized that you can and will overcome this. On my return home I felt like a whole new person and in fact, still do today. Having this new-found independence has helped me to grow up and realize how much surviving I can do on my own. It is an invaluable thing to know you can be so self-reliant. Of course, surrounding yourself with amazing people is extremely important, but one way you find these great people is by expanding your horizons, and to do this, you need to take the risk and believe you can stand on your own.
Holley is a recent graduate of Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She studied abroad in London, UK in the spring of 2013. Post-grad, Holley will be traveling back home to Rochester, NY for the summer and plans on continuing her journey abroad through teaching English as a second language starting fall ’15.