As I look out over Lake Geneva from my two-foot wide balcony on this luminous Monday morning in Lausanne, Switzerland, I find that, even though this view is to die for, with the lake’s piercing-blue ripples and such starkly white mountains that encompass it, Lake Geneva can be misleading. Currently, I only see one little white sailboat slowly making its way past my field of vision.
Watching it inch its way along the lake, I wonder quite possibly where the little boat is going, especially at 5:30 a.m. — a time when even the neighboring roosters have not chimed in, giving us a warning that the day is inevitably starting. How brave is that little boat, I quietly tell myself. It takes courage to plummet into the unknown.
Thus, as you sail your ship, I encourage you (as either a prospective abroad student or a current abroad student) to keep an open mind and heart.
As we embark on our individual journeys while abroad, do not let pictures fool you. We will often feel like that little sailboat — alone and not quite sure what lies ahead of us.
Though this year has been and will be filled with glorious moments that allow us to discover who we truly are, we will also be confronted with situations where we question our purpose in being abroad.
This past weekend in Amsterdam made me understand why I am abroad. As a preface, navigating public transportation is not my forte; me being “directionally challenged” is simply an understatement. Nonetheless, embarking on a glorious morning in Amsterdam, my travel group of ten individuals and I decided to take the tram.
Given that I had not had my morning coffee nor my croissant (yes, Switzerland has gotten me hooked), I simply was not paying attention to when my group promptly stepped off of the transport; remaining, there was me in my own little world.
Peering outside the tram window as it began to move again, I saw my beautiful roommate outside of the tram motioning and waving at me to get off. Not processing that I should have gotten off at that stop–as I was in a daze–I simply thought to myself, “Oh, there’s Elizabeth.”
Realizing moments later that I needed to NOT be on that tram, I started to panic. Memorizing the movements of the tram and its turns on the tracks, I knew that I need to sprint back to the location where I should have exited–where my group was–my sense of comfort.
Five minutes later, I sprang from the tram and ran as fast I could towards my group (not knowing if I was, in fact, going in the right direction). Sprint. Ow. Shin splint. Repeat.
As I dragged my little body across the unknown, I finally saw a green bobbing figure in the distance, sprinting as though it was a 100-meter dash in the Olympics. The figure? Of course, a member from my group.
Sweating, out of breath, and lethargic, the individual came to my rescue; once again, I was reunited with my group and individuals with whom I felt most comfortable.
Oftentimes, it takes being in an uncomfortable social and physical environment to become vulnerable to personal change–i.e. me on that tram. You may find the things that once held so much value in your life may not be as important as you once believed before your time abroad.
What I’m trying to say is, you may find that the unknown can be better than you ever expected. For me, I know this to be so true. In the moments of panic and chaos, we find that there is a community waiting for us abroad, if only we reach for it.
You will find people who will run the extra mile (literally) for you, if you only seize the full abroad experience. For the rest of the day, I had a rope tied to my backpack–I was essentially leashed. However, never had I felt more loved in my time abroad, as I realized that I was surrounded by people who truly cared for my well-being.
Though I am not an expert on living life in Europe, or abroad for that matter, I believe there is a reason why we are where we are this year.
Speaking for myself, I know that the experiences and knowledge that I have obtained whilst living abroad have encouraged me and inspired me in ways that I could never foresee before embarking on this journey.
Here in Lausanne, I have found my passion for community, and I have been trying to enrich it through every means possible. Staying up until the wee hours of the morning engaging in conversation has been all the worthwhile. I have gotten to know such precious details and qualities of those who are around me.
Thus, I encourage you. Don’t throw in your cards too quickly. Don’t give up. Learn to love what you see and who you are with, and then, quite possibly, you will find who you are and the answer to the question that all of us are dying to know—“Why am I here?”
Many of us enter abroad not knowing the individuals around us, which can be quite daunting. Initially, we are all alone, but if you give abroad the chance, you will see that your sail will not be the only one raised as the sun rises slowly above the lake.