I'd like to say that my semester abroad has taught me deep, meaningful lessons about myself, my place in the world, and humanity at large. And perhaps it has, as the more I travel, the more I realize that people are a lot more alike than they'd probably like to believe. But mostly what I've learned about is my own capacity to stay patient, my ability to endure not-so-fun conditions, and my potential to tackle seemingly-terrifying adventures, which I personally believe will serve me much better in the long run than some deep, philosophical truth. (Although you might want to get in touch with me in 20 years and see if I still believe that, because I could very well change my mind.)
They say if you want to test a relationship, to go traveling together. So what better way to test the friendships I've developed over here than to travel with my friends, nonstop, for three straight weeks? If you think we're insane, it's probably because we are a little bit, and I'm at peace with that. It was spring break, I'll never in my life have a chance to do something like that ever again, and my new life motto has become something like "why not?" I could've spent that off-time lounging on an exotic beach in Spain, Malta, or Greece. But I figure I should save that for when I can match the quality of the beach with the living situation, perhaps a nice hotel suite instead of shacking up in an 8-person hostel room. The good news? None of us got sick of one another. You'd think that after that long of constant traveling, particularly in those extremely early morning rushes to catch a bus or a train in a non-English speaking country after sleeping in a room with six strangers, we would've bitten each other's heads off at some point, but we didn't. I'm sure we all got annoyed with each other at various points because we're only human, but we stayed together, close, and had incredible amounts of fun. It couldn't have been better.
We hit seven countries and eleven cities in three weeks, allotting roughly two days per place we visited. The itinerary was as follows: Berlin, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Krakow, Poland; Vienna, Austria; Budapest, Hungary; Salzburg, Austria; Munich, Germany; Rome, Italy; Florence, Italy; Milan, Italy; and Interlaken, Switzerland. It was absolutely exhausting, but absolutely worth it. We nicknamed it our "Euro Invasion" (hence the title of this post) after a couple of very nice Belgian men we met in Krakow lightheartedly told us we were practically invading the continent. I can't even begin to fathom what my favorite part of it all was (and that's the question I've gotten most from my friends back in the States) because each place was so unique and interesting that I can't really compare. The famous beauty of Italy and the Alps is just as true as everyone claims; and the eastern portions of Europe we ventured into are highly underrated if you ask me, which I never would've known if I hadn't decided to go.
We paraglided off the Alps, tried every kind of food available, rated world-class gelato, endured unexpected cold and downpours of rain and snow... we pretty much rarely said no to anything offered our way. And I won't lie: it wasn't cheap. But it was probably about as cheap as you can get if you want to see the world. We stayed in hostels the entire time, which taught me how to endure extended amounts of time without privacy; we did minimal laundry by hand, which taught me how to sacrifice a little bit of hygiene for a bigger goal; and we have now developed the incredible skill of being able to fall asleep on any form of transportation, including overcrowded buses and trains, which definitely taught me how to rest whenever and wherever possible. There were no fine dining experiences, no awesome AirBNBs, and definitely no shopping in the drool-worthy, high fashion stores we passed (looking at you, Italy). Comfort was fairly minimal and luxury was non-existent, but that's good. Traveling, particularly while you're young, seems to be about pushing yourself outside your comfort zone to experience something new, something different. Cushioning yourself with comfort and wealth limits that. Save the exotic, expensive vacations for when you're older and have more money (not to mention taste).
Perhaps it was that I moved a lot as a kid and never really put down roots outside my family, perhaps it was just the thrill of finally getting out into the world at large, but I know I've caught that wanderlust bug, if I hadn't caught it already before my study abroad experience. I know after this, I will travel again, eagerly. I'd like to visit more places, especially areas of the world that aren't as westernized as Europe. While vastly different from America, it shares a lot of similarities, which probably made my transition much easier than it would've been in other places. In a lot of ways, that was a good thing, especially since I hadn't ventured outside the country much to begin with. But now that I've been out here, I think it would be to my benefit as a person and an adult to explore far different cultures, such as those in Asia, Africa, and South America, places where my way of life isn't as similar to those around me and pushes me to my limits. I got a taste of it in Eastern Europe, the little we ventured into it. It's made me curious.
This semester has been a privilege, one that wouldn't have been possible without my own determination, the support (figuratively and financially) by my parents, and encouragement of my peers, family, and mentors. I'm not happy to be leaving Ireland and Europe, because I have undoubtedly fallen completely in love with the world I hadn't known. But I am happy to be returning home to the people who love me, hopefully a little more grown up than I was before I left. To everyone who gave me a reason to leave, to everyone who gave me a reason to run off and explore, and to everyone who is giving me a reason to come back, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will absolutely treasure this experience for the rest of my life and everything it's taught me.
And to you, whomever you are, reading this and wondering whether or not you should take the chance and study abroad, I hope you do. You'll never experience anything like it ever again, and I can guarantee that you won't regret it.