As I walked up to the baggage counter and strapped my luggage tag to my suitcase, the reality of my life for the next 3.5 months sunk in. I hoisted the bag up onto the scale: “50.00 lbs.” My parents chuckled behind me, as we had just spent the last two days narrowing down my luggage to stay under the 50 lb limit. I chuckled too, knowing that everything I was going to need for the next 3.5 months was included in that 50 lbs. As the conveyor belt dragged my suitcase away, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders, but also a new feeling of anxiety as I got ready to leave my parents behind. I walked to the security line and said an excited but melancholy goodbye before I walked through the line, waving behind me periodically. I was nervous, and as I sat down to write my first entry in my journal that I had decided to bring abroad.
I truthfully had never been so scared to leave home. I wasn’t even nervous about the culture I was about to jump into, or even missing my family or being scared of new experiences. I was beyond excited, however I was nervous about my own emotions and being able to remain independent when abroad. I was worried I wouldn’t have someone who I could go to if I was feeling sad, and I was scared about having to navigate my way through numerous countries where I could not speak the language whatsoever. Little did I know, my summer abroad would be the most incredible, life-changing experience I would ever have, and I would meet friends whom upon my return I would say the same tearful goodbye to as the ones I said to my family 3.5 months prior. I had no idea that it would be even harder to leave my home abroad and come back home than it had been to leave my real home in the first place.
Above all, studying abroad taught me to be emotionally independent, and to figure out a world in which I did not know the context or social dynamic. I learned how to travel via plane, train, tram, and bus, relying on what little knowledge I had, remaining self-aware and taking in everything I possibly could about my surroundings. I found a new favorite park to walk around when I felt sad, and I learned enough of the Czech language to explore without getting lost, order food, and converse on a basic friendly level. I pushed myself throughout my time there, even meeting a lifelong best friend with whom I cried, laughed, and danced the night away. The level of anxiety I had coming into the experience faded away, and it became easy to just be excited about any new experience that came my way. I put all my energy into the time that I had there, running to catch early morning trains, sleeping on the floor of the cheapest hotels we could find just to be able to spend the night in the heart of Florence, Italy, and walking 15 miles per day around all of Munich and Berlin. The whole summer became a huge adventure, with every night filled with trips to the Czech beer gardens, the Opera, or relaxing paddle boat rides on the Vltava River. I checked hundreds of experiences off my bucket list, getting to ride the line between being a tourist and a local, unfamiliar with the surroundings but having to long term grocery shop, manage my budget, and go to classes. I felt an interesting sense of belonging, and after 3.5 months it was hard to imagine how my life would change upon coming back home. Even after coming back, my time abroad felt like a dream, and I constantly look back on the feelings of anxiety I had upon leaving with amazement. I was terrified to leave, but in just 3.5 months, Prague had become my home away from home, and leaving the Czech Republic felt like I was leaving a part of myself behind with it. I grew more in these past few months than I ever thought possible, and it gave me a newfound love for traveling and making myself vulnerable. It’s become more and more clear to me that living abroad was the most challenging, yet most rewarding and unforgettable experience I have ever had, and I know that I would do it all again in a heartbeat.