August 14, 2016. Today marks one year since I left Toronto for my year abroad. It also marks 2 months since I left Middelburg, to return to Toronto. This time last year, people were asking me what I was most excited for, this year, people are asking me to tell them how my trip was, and asking me what I want to do after graduation. My head was spinning last August, and my head continues to spin this August.
“Incredible”, I say, “I absolutely loved it” – but what does that mean. It means that I thought that saying goodbye to my family, who I wouldn’t see until the next summer, was the hardest thing ever; but I learned that saying goodbye to people who I made inexplicably strong bonds with, not knowing when I would see them again, is 1000 times harder. I learned that traveling makes you feel more alive than you could possibly imagine, but it also makes you more nervous than you ever knew was possible no matter how confident you are. I learned how to appreciate the mundane things that were different both at home, and in the new places I got to discover. I learned to appreciate the internet as a form of communication, and also to know when to cut yourself off from communication and to enjoy the moment. I learned the power of trusting strangers, and I understood the power of kind gestures.
Of all the things I learned, I think what impacted me the most was the power of love. Okay, that sounds like I had a super romantic European adventure and met the love of my life… *chill* this isn’t a movie 😉 (I mean I wouldn’t have complained if it worked out like that…) Nonetheless, I did fall in love. I fell in love with people, with myself, with adventure, with challenges, with learning, and with the magic of life.
I think meeting others is one of the most amazing experiences that we have as people. I really started to realize this when a friend shared this quote with me “Everyone that enters your life comes at precisely the moment you most need to learn the lesson they’ve come to teach” – Robin Sharma . This year, I found myself coming back to this quote and reflecting on the people I have come across, and how they have a piece of my heart, and will always be part of my fondest memories. These friends may have spent the whole year by my side, or our paths may have only crossed for a couple of hours, or days, but I still look at my experience in awe because I truly feel privileged to have had these beautiful humans come into my life.
I know it’s very stereotypical to go on a trip and “find yourself”, but it’s actually something I believe now. Going to a place where no one knows anything about you is kind of refreshing. You can be the most authentic version of yourself, without people whispering “wow, she’s changed.” Being alone grants you time to think, and if you’re like me, and struggle to self-reflect, at the beginning, it will be difficult to be alone with your thoughts. As time goes on however, it becomes easier – confronting your fears, celebrating your accomplishments, and falling in love with yourself. I’ve found that gets hard again when you are back to “regular life”, but once you’ve felt the liberated feeling of loving yourself, it’s hard to hide from that again. Self love is a process that probably doesn’t have a finish line, but the acceptance of the journey is an important step.
I learned to embrace fear and challenges, and to try new things. I had many situations in which I had to take charge and make things work. Whether that challenge was cooking dhal for the first time (actually, I called my mom at least 3 times a week for cooking advice), making sure I had a place to live for second semester, or figuring what to do when my flight to Spain was cancelled, I had to throw myself into the unknown and hope for the best. I didn’t do it alone though – I must credit much of this to my mom, who was there at all times to help me to figure out what to do – I’m not sure if she knows this, through maternal instinct or whatever other magic moms have, but I don’t think I would have made it through the year without her love and support, and I now know how to love the hard times too.
This experience has been no less than life changing and I am so grateful for the opportunity. It has opened my eyes up to things I never knew I never knew. I am really excited for what fourth year has to offer, and while incredibly stressful, I am looking forward to where the future will take me.