For as long as I can remember, I have been utterly enamored with the concept of traveling abroad. As a kid—and still as a 20-year-old—I felt like Belle from Beauty and the Beast—my nose was buried deep in books, desperately craving “adventure in the great wide somewhere.” After salivating with jealousy while watching both my younger brother and mom have European adventures of their own—to Italy and France respectively—I was finally given the opportunity to study abroad for a month this summer by taking Humanities II abroad in the Czech Republic and Austria.
For someone who had romanticized studying abroad for essentially her whole life, the real experience was definitely much messier than I had pictured, but I’m still somewhat glad it worked out that way because it was enlightening.
I tend to stress over things out of my control, but various mishaps and frustrations that arose while traveling around new countries helped me to learn how to accept minor issues as part of the journey rather than disastrous setbacks. Despite impediments such as language barriers with cranky bus drivers, heat exhaustion in Austria, multiple mandatory hours-long tours and preparation for a 20-minute group presentation, I was still able to have a wonderful time while studying abroad.
While I did love Prague with its fairytale-like pastel buildings, easy metro system, friendly locals and incredibly cheap beer, my favorite part of being abroad wasn’t actually a scheduled part of my program. My boyfriend Taylor—who was also on the trip with me—and two other guys in our group decided to spend four days in Kraków, Poland while the majority of the group went off to Budapest. It was on this excursion that I found what I had been dreaming of for years.
Being in Kraków gave me a sense of exhilaration and contentment; a blissful kind of awareness and gratitude for a place that made me feel so happy and at home. I rode a bike alone along the Vistula river waterfront and laid in the green grass watching clouds. I made my ancestors proud as I did shots of Krupnik at a local Polish bar. Taylor twirled me around the narrow, bustling streets of Old Town while I laughed, drunk on too much champagne. What I found enchanting in Kraków—and throughout the whole trip—were the simple, spontaneous moments. These meant the most to me.
Everyone says that travel changes you, but I also think it helps you to discover more of who you are. My HUMN II abroad expedition reinforced my Belle-ness, my thirst for adventure and my love of new cultural experiences. It also helped show me that just like life, travel isn’t perfect, but you will learn and have those simple, beautiful moments that make you so grateful to be alive.
That, in my opinion, is something worth chasing for the rest of my life.