During my time abroad, I had a total of: 18 plane tickets, 44 cities visited in seven different countries, three notebooks filled with annotations, timetables, and reminders, four umbrellas, six new scarves, and seven pairs of worn out shoes.
So here I am, back where I started and substantially poorer. So what have I gained? I don’t think I’m one of those people that changes completely and fundamentally over the course of the study abroad experience. Instead, I know that I am the same person with the same values and integrity that I had when I started. What I have gained is the confidence to step out into a ridiculously uncertain world and own my own experiences. I read maps now; I go on small adventures. I do things differently because I can and because I have the drive to. I’m still the same person that prefers to spend Saturday mornings reading in bed with a chocolate bar; I’m the same person that hates running but does it anyway. But now I’m much less afraid to show those things to people. Now, if I want something badly enough, I will move heaven and earth to get it for myself. I have started to open up and sing in front of other people. If I don’t like something, you will hear about it. The difference is that I can lead the group, I can keep my head, I can stand alone.
I remember those hours I spent, the lone person in a Boston terminal on August 30, 2011, nervously flipping though my guidebook on Spain. I almost turned back, too afraid to go on – how could my life fit into those photos on the glossy pages? In some ways it couldn’t, I knew. But I also knew that if I gave up, if I thew in the towel, I would be missing out on something big, something more enormous than anyone should ever look at in its entirety – it’s like looking at Mt. Everest and deciding not to even try because it’s too big for you. How could you know? And so, sweating like a pig, I got on that plane. I stuck my shaky hands under my legs and held on for dear life. The realization came to me – frightening then but comforting now – that in this crazy mixed-up world we live in, I was always going to be the constant. In a storm, everything else may shake, but I will be there, me, myself, whole.
And so I wanted to share it with you – with whoever has been reading my posts – I wanted to show you the streets I walked, the places on this earth that bear my footprints. I wanted to share what I was learning, what I was excited about. I wanted to give you the most important part of my life thus far on a platter and let you be transported. I told you so much about some of these places because I loved doing it and because I wanted you to understand: the culture, the history, and most of all, the people today.
I also dwelled a lot on the uglier side of history – especially later on – for the same reasons why I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and why I made myself watch hours of news footage from September 11, 2001. I believe that you have to look into the ugly face of history in order to understand it; you have to take the sweet with the bitter and accept the fact that without the terrible things we would not be who we are, we would not have our humanity. So we stare into the cold hard eyes of senseless violence and decide to stand tall, despite the new knowledge we have of our fellow man – or of ourselves.
That seems like a rather melodramatic place to stop all this. I won’t deny that I enjoy a dose of it every now and then, but that’s not what I want to end this magnum opus with – the world isn’t all doom and gloom. The world is ridiculous – it’s a mental patient that has escaped from the hospital and is now standing on the corner telling the weirdest, funniest jokes. But that mental patient is also at times unerringly beautiful, so you can’t help but fall in love. So perhaps that is where I should end: I have fallen in love with the hectic universe, with broadened horizons, with life itself. And what could be better?
So goodbye, everybody. It’s been glorious.