(Written on December 18th)
(Written on December 18th)
I almost never came to Prague. “Serious doubts” doesn’t even begin to cover what I was feeling the days before my departure in August. I don’t think people realized just how clueless, alone, afraid, and uncertain I felt. I began to wonder if studying abroad was just too unattainable for me, and even considered attending Susquehanna during this fall semester, or taking the semester off. The night before I left was the worst. Words cannot describe what I was feeling that night. I was in a bed next to my parents, who I wouldn’t see for almost four months. I was about to fly on a plane for the first time within hours. I was going to be in Europe alone, and I was well aware of my inability to be outgoing and meet new people. And what if I hated Prague and felt that I made a poor decision? What if I wanted to go home within weeks? This is half of what was going on in my mind that night. And then, I flew.
I told my friends and family countless times that I wanted to go through my journey completely alone. My explanation for that was I felt like surrounding myself with people would distract me from what I wanted to accomplish. I certainly secluded myself a lot at the beginning, and I realize that now looking back. I remember sitting on Facebook and seeing how other people from my program were out gallivanting around Prague having the time of their lives, and I was sitting in my room looking out the window and thinking what I was missing out on. I blame this entirely on myself. I could have accepted offers to hang out, and I could have put myself out there and gotten to know people. What made it worse is that people from back home continually began to state how much fun I must be having, and how lucky I was. I didn’t feel that way. I felt isolated and anxious for some kind of change. Eventually, that change came. It was around October when I began to feel comfortable with myself, and I also began to get to know the people who would become my closest friends. These people changed me. They gave me confidence I didn’t know that I had, and I admired their boldness and zeal. Also, some of them had personalities or interests that I hadn’t clicked with before. Their faces are flashing in my mind right now, and it makes me smile. Saying good bye to everyone yesterday was nearly impossible. I owe so much of my self-discovery to these friends I made, and I hope more than anything that our paths can cross again someday.
There were three places I wanted to travel to more than anything during this semester: Versailles, Auschwitz, and Salzburg. Accomplishing all three is something I am so grateful for, because they really were dreams that came true. And then I sit back and think of how I got to touch the Berlin Wall, and see the Eiffel tower at night, and swim in a Turkish bath in Budapest, and shop at a Christmas market in Vienna, and spend time with Susquehanna friends at pubs in London. For the years to come I know that I will be reminded of these travels frequently. They have also inspired me to spend my life experiencing what the world has to offer. I’m already looking forward to my Australia trip in June of next year with the psychology and biology departments. Also, I’ve decided that my goal is to travel to Tokyo in the next five years. My European excursions of the past few months will always be special to me though. It was these journeys that lit the spark, and opened my eyes wider then they have ever been.
As much as I may have complained over the course of the semester how frustrating and unorganized CIEE could be, I still thank it for providing me with so many opportunities. I wouldn’t have gotten around to traveling throughout the Czech Republic, attended as many theater performances as I did, gotten the chance to explore Prague as in depth, and much more. Some of the professors I had the pleasure of being taught by are some of the individuals who I will miss the most. Plus I learned, an incredible amount of new information this semester, and I know that this will benefit me in my future studies and other aspects of my life. When I walked out of the study center for the last time on Thursday, it was difficult to think that I will never be in that building again. It was a haven for me.
I didn’t get to know my host family as much as I would have liked, but in a way I’m not surprised it turned out the way it did. Our schedules were completely opposite, and I was always away or out with friends on the weekends. I kept telling myself and others that I should have tried harder to get to know them, but then I realized that it is a two way street. Yes, I certainly could have tried to spend more time with them and made more of an effort in other ways, but at the same time, being a foreigner and living with another family is an intimidating experience. So, what I’m saying is that I believe we both could have tried harder to understand and accompany each other. Meeting Dagmar, my host sister, is something I will take away from that experience most of all. Even though we only spent a few days time together throughout the course of a four month period, I feel such a special friendship with her. We understand one another so well, and I have never seen someone with a spirit like hers before. She came home this weekend, and I got the chance to see her for the last time. I was struggling a lot with leaving and was also having a lot of issues with my flights. She stood by me throughout it all and provided me with so much positive energy. Dagmar also accompanied me to the airport this morning to help me sort some things out, before then seeing me off. As she was walking away from me, I realized just how thankful I was that I got the chance to know her.
The support that I received from everyone throughout my journey has been phenomenal. From reading my blogs and wishing me good luck on my travels, to sending me packages and cards and asking how I’m doing, people from back home have, in their own way, accompanied me throughout everything. Some of this support came as a surprise to me. For example, an aunt of mine whom I never deemed as very interested in my endeavor contacted me before I left for Prague to wish me good luck; she began to cry on the phone saying how she was proud of me and hoped I would stay safe. She also sent me cards throughout the semester on her own behalf. I don’t think she realized how much that meant to me. I’d especially like to thank my friends, whose constant advice and encouragement helped me beyond belief. From the very beginning they were supporting me, thanks to a letter that Steph had written to me that I was only allowed to open on the plane. I just reread that letter, and was reminded of how grateful I am to have the friends that I do. As always, my grandparents provided me with their constant love even though I was an ocean away, and I feel more support from my dad than I have ever felt before. Most importantly I would like to thank my mom. Although she may be the biggest worry-wart this world has ever seen, and has a personality that perfectly clashes against mine, it doesn’t stop her from being my rock. Being away from her for so long has made me realize how much I appreciate her over-bearing nature; I should be happy that I have a parent who cares about me as much as she does. My biggest hope for the future is that I can convince my family to travel together, even if it is only a state away. As I was seeing so many incredible things this semester, I was always thinking about how I wish they were there to experience it with me.
And then, there’s Praha. We didn’t get along sometimes, but in the end, this diamond in the rough made me one of its own. Even though I may have gotten constantly overwhelmed by language barriers and the Czechs very difficult to read façade, I’m so glad I chose the Czech Republic as my study abroad location. It is so underappreciated, thanks to all those lameeeee West European countries (jk ;]), and I urge people to inquire about what it has to offer. I’m going to miss eating honey cake on my way to school, seeing the children at the hospital, shocking Czechs by speaking in their native tongue, hearing the woman’s voice on the metro, paying just over a dollar a beer, being surrounded by incredible architecture, learning about such a unique history, and about 320582 other things. Most of all I’m going to miss living life to the fullest with everyone who made my semester what it was. I was at a teahouse last night with Dagmar, and I kept crying because I couldn’t believe it was over. But I was also crying because, I was just so happy.
I’m writing this entry at the Copenhagen airport, where I got stranded for a day thanks to flight delays. I was supposed to be home by now, but it turns out my homecoming will be tomorrow. I’ve had a lot of time to think about what has happened to me during this semester, and I keep thinking about one thing: I’m proud of myself. I never say that. I always think I can do better, and even if I do manage to accomplish something huge, I say it must have been luck or an accident. But I really am though, I am so proud of myself. For coming to Prague, for opening up and getting to know people, for trying new things, for seeing what I saw, for everything. I’m marveled by how happy I look in pictures these days, and how tidbits of optimism flow through me every now and then (and yes, that is a HUGE, HUGE deal). I feel like a much different person from what I came to Europe as, and I hope that I can continue to be this way when I return to the states. This whole experience meant much more than studying in another country. It meant giving me the zest in life that I was always missing.
James Baldwin, activist, writer, and playwright, spent a few years of his life living in Europe, particularly in Budapest and Paris. He would later write that these years were very difficult for him, mostly based on the strife that he faced because of his race. However, I also came across a statement of his that, within a few words, perfectly describes the last four months of my life: “I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself.”