I find it ironic how you discover yourself while traveling far away from home. I hardly recognize the girl I was before having spent time studying abroad.
My early years in junior high and high school were primarily spent trying to “find myself,” something we all strive for in those years. Then, you enroll in a university and feel like you’re finally there. You know who you are and what you stand for, and it could not feel better.
I was no different. I came to Illinois State University with a goal of my life in mind. Granted, minor things like my major may have changed, but I always knew who I was. Everything changed my sophomore year when I first considered studying abroad.
I had never been outside of the United States, so setting my sights on a month-long summer program in Paris was nerve-racking. I spent the whole year waffling back and forth between excited to apply and chickening out until finally, applications were almost due.
A short three months later, I was sitting at a café in Paris people watching and planning my next adventure.
They always say when you venture abroad, whether for study, leisure or business, you get bit by this allusive travel bug that injects you with a travel-obsessed gene. I disagree.
In the past year and a half, I have had the privilege of being in 13 different European countries. One might say I am addicted to traveling the world, but I counter by saying I am addicted to traveling my own self.
I am addicted to learning how to adapt to new situations. I am addicted to discovering my love for cultures other than my own. I am addicted to that skip in your heart when you do not understand the languages around you or the signs pointing you in the right direction. I am addicted to expanding my own mind, while still knowing where I come from.
Looking at photos from my travels, I see more than beautiful sights and fun memories. I see the initial panic of a new place that has molded me into the woman I am today.
Traveling abroad has allowed me to leap out of my comfort zone, and in that I found confidence. It is not that I did not believe in myself before my first trip abroad, but that girl from before my sophomore year of college would not have been as courageous to do what I now do.
I cannot encourage my peers enough to open their minds to the beauty of travel. Whether that is through study abroad or on your own. No matter if it is a road trip around the Midwest or an African safari, get out there.
Life gets busy. If travel is something unheard of with your schedule, educate yourself in different ways.
Broaden your network of friends. We have students of all cultures right here on ISU’s campus and there is so much you can learn from them if you just open your eyes.
One of my favorite quotes hangs on my wall and it reads, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”