by Megan Emily, John Wesley Scholar, Class of 2015
Fat snowflakes trampled each other in a hurry to get to the ground. The plane sat outside the terminal, swarmed by red-faced men in Carhartts. For the past twenty-four hours, airlines had cancelled so many flights the departure board was starting to look like a memorial wall to the fallen. It was funny, I thought, that I was afraid my plane wasn’t going to get to take off – five minutes ago I’d been afraid that it would.
When I heard, “American Airlines to Dallas now boarding,” my stomach tied itself into a neat little pretzel and hid behind my liver. All of a sudden, strapping myself to an aluminum tube and hurtling through the stratosphere at three hundred miles an hour didn’t sound like a good idea. Actually, leaving home for four months to live in a post-Soviet country in Eastern Europe didn’t sound that great, either. You can still get out, I told myself. I could call Mom, tell her and Dad to wait up and take me back to Crandall – forget the fortune I’d spent on plane tickets. Instead, I told my fear to shut up and got on the plane.
The first night in Vilnius – Lithuania’s capital – two other early arrivals and I went exploring. The dark, studded with light from street lamps and the Christmas tree in the square, settled around my shoulders. I’d never been out of the U.S. before, never heard anyone speak Lithuanian or Russian before, never thought I’d have a chance to see Europe. I was star struck.
Over the next four months, I visited nine countries. All of them taught me something. I realized in Moscow that I don’t have to fall in love with every city I visit. Oslo taught me to pursue my own dreams seriously instead of jumping on board someone else’s for fun. In Barcelona, I learned that I am not, in fact, helpless and that I can navigate a metro and read a map. My study abroad experience was the first time I couldn’t just call my parents and ask for help. I had to manage my own life on a daily basis. Sometimes, that gave me an opportunity to prove to myself that I can be independent, that I’m going to be okay. Mostly, it showed me the things I do wrong – the places where I’m self-centered or moody, the days I ignore God just because I think I can, the way I’ll hold up a decision without really looking at it and say, “That looks about right,” before tossing it into my life.
Now that I’m home, everyone wants to know how my trip was. I smile and say it was good because I’m not sure how to explain the last four months of my life. I found out I’m not the person I thought I was. That can be good – like finding out I can laugh at myself, have fun alone, and enjoy flying – or it can be bad, like realizing that most of my family’s drama is because of my selfishness. Fortunately, I now have a better idea of what I am and what I’m not and why I act the way I do, which gives me the ability to fix what I don’t like and reinforce what I do. Studying abroad changed me a little in the moment, but I’m more curious to see how it shapes my life now that I’m home.