How I Spent My Summer Vacation

26 Jan

I wrote this for the newspaper over the summer (while I was in London, actually, about three weeks before the end of my trip) and it didn’t end up getting published. So, enjoy:

How did I spend my summer vacation?  Twelve weeks, thirteen countries, one backpack, and 41 new Facebook friends – so far.

By the end of my sophomore year, I had settled into a routine.  I knew who my friends were, what classes I was taking, how I would be spending my weekends: the novelty of starting college just wasn’t there anymore.  I knew it was time to do something big.  Juniors typically spend a semester studying abroad, so I had always expected that I would do the same.
The problem is, even though my life was predictable, I loved it.  I hated the idea of missing out on a semester of my junior year, even though I knew going abroad would be incredible.  Luckily, I also hated the idea of spending another summer in suburbia, working the same job I got when I was sixteen.
I took an unorthodox approach to study abroad and set up my trip for the summer.  I found a seven-week program without  affiliation with my university that would send me to Barcelona and then booked my plane ticket home for five weeks after the program ended, because I knew that what I really wanted was the chance to explore Europe, not just one city.
A lot of people asked why I wasn’t doing the Florence program, like most people who study abroad.  GIF is a great program, but I wanted to force myself out of my “bubble” and I knew the only way to do that was to travel on my own.  I got on that airplane not knowing a single person I would meet on the other side.  It was terrifying and lonely and exhilarating.
I spent seven weeks in an apartment in Barcelona with six girls from all across the US.  I learned how to deal with different personalities and cultures (when Seattle and Georgia and New York all try to live together, there’s as much of a culture clash as with any foreign country) and I learned how to live with large groups of people (sure to help when I move off-campus in the fall).  It was also really, really difficult. There were some really lonely days, some times when I just wished I could run to my mom for a hug, some times when I wished my flight home was the next morning.
Studying abroad is supposed to be fun and exciting, but it’s the hard stuff – like being in Paris at midnight with no cash, a broken debit card, and no place to sleep – that’s taught me how much I can handle. Every moment of the last two months has offered some sort of life lesson.  Walking alone through a foreign city with only my iPod for company taught me how much I appreciate my friendships.  Being invited to stay for two nights with some sisters from Switzerland after talking for fifteen minutes taught me about hospitality.  Sharing stories until the early morning with complete strangers on a Florence rooftop reminded me how similar we all are.  And losing my camera in the Stockholm IKEA taught me to always, always, zip my coat pocket.
Studying abroad is all about discovering the world and finding yourself.  It hasn’t been easy every step of the way, but nothing worthwhile ever is.  I’m not quite through yet – my plane doesn’t land in Spokane until August 22 – but I already know that through all the challenges and tears have been beyond worth it for the good moments, the I’m-really-here moments, the moments when I’ve successfully navigated the subway in Swedish and made a new friend in my hostel and found a grocery store for a cheap dinner.
So if you’re thinking about going abroad, do it.  Do it exactly the way that makes sense for you, and what you want out of your trip.  Go for a summer, or a semester, or a year.  Go to Florence, or go to Zambia.  Go alone, or go with your best friend.  Just go.

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