All Good Things

The end has come.

After 17 countries (if you count Vatican City), 22 flights (including layovers), 8 train rides, 16 hostels, 8 currencies, 14 official languages, 2 amusement parks, 3 prisons, and only one major injury, to say the past four months were eventful would be the understatement of the year. I’ve attempted to write about my most notable events and experiences here, but I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve also completely left out my entire trip along the Mediterranean I just returned from this morning, since I sadly don’t have the time to put two weeks of incredible experiences into words. But as I’m flying home to the U.S. tomorrow, I figure I’d do a little reflecting about this semester and if it actually gave me anything besides great memories and an empty bank account.

I know it’s cliche to blabber on about how much you learn from study abroad, but it’s true. I can do most metric to English conversions (and vice versa) in my head now. I know a lot more about certain countries’ culture, history, politics, art, food, and alcohol, among other things. I can even say basic words and phrases in most languages of the countries I visited, including a few choice curse words.

However, there’s so much more to the learning that comes from going abroad than facts and information. I’ve improved in so many skill areas, including cooking, travel planning, finding my way around a foreign place (still very much a work in progress though), managing money, singing, rock climbing, acrobatics, etc. I’ve discovered a lot about how I behave in new and unfamiliar situations, which I firmly believe is the true test of a person’s character. Most importantly, I truly feel that I’ve become more balanced, in multiple aspects of my life. I’m now even more ambitious when it comes to travel and seeing tons of sights in a short period of time, but I’ve become much better at relaxing and stopping to smell the roses once in a while. I’ve become better at meeting and talking with new people (if you can believe that), but have also become more okay with solitude and self-reflection.

So, what to do with all this newfound self-realization? I figure that as my study abroad semester comes to a close, I should develop some goals for the future. After all, a “life-changing” experience doesn’t really mean anything unless you actually use it to change your life, right? This is meant to a few international and travel-related things I’d like to do, not a full-on bucket list. Coming up with these was a bit difficult since some aren’t tangible and so many of them overlap, but here they are:

  • Actually live in a country outside the U.S. at some point. The reason I say “actually” is because I didn’t truly live in the same Denmark as the locals. Sure, I went to the same grocery stores/restaurants/bars, but I was always a visitor. I don’t mean to criticize my study abroad program, since they gave us more immersion opportunities you could ever hope for, but I’d like to actually immerse myself in a new country rather than be a temporary visitor. I’m not 100% sure I’d want to come back to Denmark (the fact that it hailed today–on June 1st–put a lot of doubt in my mind), but I’m definitely contemplating applying for the DIS internship after graduation.
  • Travel by myself. I would have never thought to do this before this semester, but after meeting dozens of people doing it, it seems like an incredibly liberating experience. Traveling alone also allows for more spontaneity, which is something else I’d like to try out. How cool would it be to go to the airport or train station, choose a destination, and just go?
  • Stay in places for longer. In my quest to go to as many destinations as possible during these four months, I spent an average of two or three days in each city/country. This was enough for some places, but staying for more time offers you a richer experience and more accurate picture of the location and the people.
  • Go to more places off the beaten path. I traveled to mostly large, metropolitan European cities this semester which each have a unique charm and character, but aside from train rides through the countryside, I completely missed the “heartland”.
  • Work harder at giving back to the community. I know I’ve spent a large amount of money the past few months and I completely understand and appreciate how lucky I am that I was able to do this. I’d like to help those less fortunate to be able to have experiences to see the world, since it doesn’t seem right to spend so much solely on my personal enjoyment.
  • Get my hands on a nice camera and actually learn how to take pictures. So many Kodak moments were ruined by too much sunlight, too little sunlight, things being too far away, things moving too quickly, etc.
  • Become fluent in French and Mandarin…and if I pick up a few more languages along the way, that’s fine with me.
  • As my all-time favorite sign (from Malmø, Sweden) says, “refuse to stay still”. There’s so much to do and see in this crazy world and far too little time to become complacent.

America, I’ll be back to you before you know it. I’m expecting to have major reverse culture shock and SAW (a new acronym I coined for “study abroad withdrawal”), but if there’s one thing this semester has taught me, it’s that you can have jaw-dropping, awe-inspring, laugh-inducing, thought-provoking, perspective-changing experiences anywhere. You don’t need to go abroad…although it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Thanks for reading, have a great summer, and refuse to stay still!