“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”Winnie the Pooh
Looking back 5 months, it’s incredible to think how far I have come and how much I have changed. When I left to come to Europe, I was terrified, home sick, and completely unsure about my upcoming experience. I sat and cried when I said goodbye to my loved ones, feeling like 5 months was too long. And now as I sit on the train leaving Ostrava behind, I have tears in my eyes again.
This has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. My eyes have been opened by travelling to incredible places and meeting amazing people. I will never have the words to express how grateful I am for the people I met while studying abroad. I have formed connections so deep and pure with the people here. Today my heart aches from the goodbyes, but I appreciate that they were so hard, because it means I was lucky enough to meet the best people imaginable.
I want to thank every person who has been part of my life in Ostrava for making my time so unforgettable. From the friends with whom I travelled and spent every day to the friends I would sit and have a beer with once a week; you all impacted me more intensely than I ever thought possible. I have loved every second I have spent with you and I will treasure those moments for the rest of my life.
Those closest to me not only brought me so much joy, but each had an impact on me and my view of the world. Gesa taught me to be curious and always ask questions of the world around me. Julia continually brought me outside my comfort zone and to helped me enjoy every moment in life. Gloria reminded me how kindness and laughter are universal and can be shared despite any language barrier. Yaren joined me in continual weirdness while also showing me the importance of learning about history and art and had an immense impact on my world view. Iiro taught me to be brave and seize every opportunity and to laugh at all the little things in life.
And those are just the few I spent the most time with. Every person I met changed me in some way. I will steal a quote from a friend, Mustafa: “I am not the same person I am when I left, because now I am composed of little pieces of all the people I met while I was here.” I carry every single person in my heart and in my thoughts, actions, and personality.
I have also grown as an individual immensely over the past months. I am more courageous than I have ever been. I have learned to travel on my own. I have spent hours and days by myself, figuring out where to go and what to do. I have slept in hostels, at strangers’ houses, and on trains. I have fearlessly taken on new challenges, new cities, and new experiences. There is something very powerful about learning to survive completely by yourself.
I am more confident in who I am than I ever thought possible. For most of my life I have struggled, as many people do, with low self-esteem and lack of confidence. Although this has been improving for the past couple of years, the last five months was the final step I needed to truly love myself in every regard. I have seen the impact I can have on those around me and learned that I can completely be myself, and those who matter will continue to love me unconditionally. I learned that I can be the first person to stand up and start dancing, and people will not laugh, but instead will smile and join. I have learned that I do not need to hide in a crowd or behind others, but I can lead fearlessly and weirdly. I finally can understand the quote from Dr. Seuss, “Do what you want and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” And not only did those who matter not mind, but they loved me even more for standing out. It is life-changing to be self-assured.
I am more curious about the world around me after having my eyes opened by my friends from around the world. I am determined to spend time learning about the biology and geology around me so I can understand more about the planet, specifically around my home so I can fully appreciate the area where I live. I am interested in learning more about the history and culture of people from around the world after meeting the amazingly diverse people here. I have spent endless hours talking politics, religion, history, and culture with my international friends to get a sense of how the world works. I have many new goals about becoming an informed individual upon my return because I feel as though I have been so naïve about the world.
I am a new and better version of myself. I have grown and improved in many ways over these months and have come to love who I am now. Seeing more of the world in this way, as well as meeting amazing people and living a different life style has completely opened my eyes.
I encourage everyone who has the means and opportunity to travel. Especially, students, take your chance to study abroad. See the world, meet the people, and experience the culture. Go to cities and go to the countryside. Talk to locals and eat foods that intimidate you. Step outside of your comfort zone. It is intimidating, and some days you are miserable and miss home. But I would not trade this experience for anything.