Last December, I sat in the back of an unfamiliar lecture theater at Belmont University. Hundreds of students representing dozens of different majors filled the room, all sharing one commonality: our absence from Belmont’s campus for the upcoming semester. We were self-proclaimed adventurers, heading to every corner of the globe and, as the departure meeting ended, our program advisor told us how brave we all were for taking on such daunting task, one that so many students never muster up the courage for.
But that’s not me, I couldn’t help but think. Among those fellow study abroad students, I was the one who ‘played it safe,’ so to speak. Other students were staying with host families. Some studying language had the goal of never speaking a word of English. They were the ones with courage. I choose New Zealand, one of the safest places in the world with the highest standards of living. They speak English and even the bush doesn’t pose much of a threat in regards to wildlife; there are no poisonous creatures here, no bears or wolves to fend off while camping, not even snakes call New Zealand home.
Despite these comforting thoughts, as my departure date crept closer, my excitement to begin my adventure took on more of an anxious feel.
I would step onto that international flight knowing not a single soul and I would have to make friends. But I am not like my brother, who is outgoing and makes friends effortlessly; relationships are more difficult for me. I would have to learn to navigate a new city and, for the first time in my life, I wouldn’t have the freedom of having a car. I would have to learn, from experience, cultural norms and every time I spoke, my American accent would give away my status as an outsider.
It seems so simple, so overcome-able, when I write it all out now, but back in January and February, the more time wore on, the most nervous I became. Maybe I was not the type of person who can so easily fly to a new country and make a life there, even if only for a few months.
No matter how worried or concerned I was, though, I never once considered not coming to New Zealand. Maybe that program advisor was right about the courage thing, because courage doesn’t mean never being afraid, it means not letting those fears stop you. That I understand.
It takes courage to leave your home, leave everything you know, and go someplace entirely new. It takes courage to get on a plane in one country and get off in another and start a new life there without knowing a single person. There’s courage in those acts no matter who you are, where you go and what you do there.
But it’s not just in those big acts that courage is found when traveling, but in the little, ordinary moments. Courage is striking up a conversation with a stranger and making a new friend. Courage is planning a trip to somewhere you’ve never been before and it’s embarking on that trip solo, relying entirely on yourself. Courage is letting the journey strip you down to the most genuine parts of who you are, and never wavering from what is left.
Courage is hard to describe but it’s easy to identify. Maybe that’s what so fascinating, so intriguing, about the backpackers of the world, the ones who never stay in one place for so long. We admire, even envy, the freedom they have, the adventurous spirit so at home in their soul, but maybe what we really admire is courage they have. The courage to live a life that most wish for, but never want badly enough to make it their reality.
You can choose comfort or you can choose courage, but you cannot choose both. If you travel, if you study abroad, if you feel the pull of new places and new faces and set out to find them, then you choose courage. And that, as I have learned, is sweet as.