If you can travel in college, please take advantage of it. I never studied abroad (although I wish I had) and I know I missed out on such an amazing opportunity. My friends would come back from their study abroad endeavors a completely different person. They were cultured, aware of their surroundings, happy. They all seemed to appreciate life so much more. When I realized I wouldn’t have the opportunity to study abroad, I knew I had made a mistake.
Luckily, I got the chance to travel to Portugal for a couple of weeks during one of my summers as a volunteer for a YoungLife camp in Ericeira. I was only there for two weeks, but the experience made me realize just how big the world is and how blessed we are to live in a world where so many cool people and places exist.
I think we often forget that we live in a bubble and don’t realize that there is so much more to the world than what we’re used to or what we know. In college, I know it’s easy to think this is it —that this is the best life is going to get and that this is all the world offers. There are so many people we haven’t met who live in all kinds of places we haven’t been to. Through traveling, we get to close this gap and become more open-minded, we get to connect with people and we get to grow as a person.
When I arrived in Portugal, it was nothing like I had expected. I think I was still shocked I wasn’t in America anymore. A month before, I didn’t even know what I was doing for the summer. Now, I found myself halfway across the world, admiring all the things that were different and new.
One — the language was different. While a lot of people spoke English, it’s very limited so I had to pick up their language very quickly. Second — everything is SO much cheaper (thank you, euros). A cup of coffee was less than a dollar and alcohol was cheaper than soda. Third — their way of life is totally different than that of Americans. I’m used to being on a time crunch and having a super busy schedule with tens of deadlines that need to be met daily. In Portugal, that wasn’t the case at all. Work isn’t the most important thing to people and the work ethic is far different than ours. They’re on a laid-back, go-with-the-flow type of schedule and go into work whenever they wake up. There’s a very lax attitude about everything. People aren’t worried about the upcoming day or the next. They literally take every day as it comes. Safe to say, it was a nice change from my hectic life.
I remember everything being so beautiful. The language was beautiful. The people were beautiful. The landscape was beautiful. For two weeks, I served high school students, went to the beach in my free time, surfed and hiked mountains. I explored the capital and went down the famous “pink street” (Rua Nova do Carvalho) visiting restaurants, bars, nightclubs and gelato shops (the best is Gelados Santini). I experienced life outside of my comfort zone and it was exhilarating.
Although I was only there for two weeks, it felt like I had been there for the whole summer. I came back and felt more mature, more independent and more knowledgeable about the world — not in a cocky, conceited way — but more of an appreciative, educational way. I felt like I had grown up and knew what I wanted out of life. The whole entire experience instilled a big sense of adventure in me and to this day, has made me do and try things I don’t think I would have otherwise.
All of this to say, if you can travel, do it. You don’t even need to fly halfway across the world. Explore your own town. Take a new path on your way home from school or work. I promise there will be some amazing places right in your own backyard.