I am experiencing a once in a lifetime opportunity. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. I get to work in a different culture, interact with others in a different language, and hopefully actually get tan for the first time in my life. But instead of sipping a fancy bottle of sparkling water with a luxury first plane ticket in hand, I’m sitting on the floor of the bathroom near Gate E80 in the Toronto Airport.
Yes, you read that correctly. Why, you may ask? Well, I could go and explain how the Toronto Airport does not have enough outlets, and my phone is almost dead so who cares about following social norms, but that is not why you clicked on this post. Instead, let’s dive into what this means for you, for me, and for anyone with an adventurous and risk-taking spirit. For those who don’t consider themselves to be bold and would rather stay on the sidelines when it comes to new experiences and risks, I hope you get something out of this as well. Because I am taking one of the biggest risks, right here right now, as I sit on the tiled floor of this women’s bathroom and you learn a few lessons when you step out on your own.
I first heard about World Endeavors at my university, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, at their Study Abroad Fair in Spring 2018. I had the sole intention of merely learning more about the different opportunities I had to spend time abroad while in college. But, as fate or maybe only life would have it, I happened to find myself at World Endeavor’s booth. There, I met Elaina Kropf, who represents World Endeavors and helps to find people interested in studying, volunteering, or even interning abroad for World Endeavors to possibly work with. At first, I thought she was just a typical recruiter who wants me to be in their program and give them my money just like everyone else. However, as I left that day I was about to find out how wrong I was.
Fast forward to a few months from then, I was still receiving emails from Elaina. In contrast, every other company had stopped, thinking I wasn’t interested anymore. She continued to mention in her emails how WE wanted to help me succeed and how individualized their programs are. After a while and several more months of differently worded emails that I could tell she wrote with consideration, I realized that this company might just actually be telling the truth about their intention to work with me one-on-one and individualize my experience. I decided to give it a shot and knew I wanted to intern somewhere in Europe as an occupational therapy intern. Now, several months later, I’m on my way to Valencia, Spain, for that exact reason. And I’ve already learned several things.
Lesson 1: Taking risks will almost always come with setbacks and moments where you’re unsure of what’s happening and what your next step should be. The last time I was on an international flight was over four years ago and you can bet that I didn’t remember all the exact steps I took to get to the boarding gate and the plane. Therefore, this caused me to feel a lot of anxiety about what to do and what not to do. In addition, while I had studied Valencia, I had not studied much of Barcelona, where I would spending the next two days. Although I had help and assistance, I feared getting lost.
As it would happen, I did get lost the first night in Barcelona and got confused by the bus system and public transport in the city. Three hours were spent trying to fix our mistakes and we eventually did. The next day, instead of being lost, we were actually asked by other English speakers for directions and help identifying buildings and landmarks. This was astounding to me. It taught me that the previous night’s experience of fear and panic was normal and could even be helpful; it was a reminder that uncertain moments coincide with new experiences.
Lesson 2: Once you face a fear and have taken the first few steps, it can seem a lot less scary. The first few hours in Barcelona, I felt like I was lucid dreaming and that I’d wake up any moment with my cat at my feet and my phone saying it was 7 am, not 14:00. I was also scared because of the enormity of the city itself and how detailed the transit maps were. I feared I would be living in a constant state of worry that I was going to the wrong place or taking the wrong turn on foot to the Arc de Triompfe. However, I went on the metro anyway. I took the bus anyway. Although we got lost the first night, by the next day, I felt like I knew the stops on the metro like a local. I was able to navigate my way back with ease and without anxiety.
This lesson was extremely important. If you’re afraid, don’t let that fear keep you inside your hotel room, host family’s house, or apartment walls. Take a step out onto uncharted and unknown cobblestone streets, and in no time, you may just feel like you belong. I for one can’t wait to see what new streets I get to tread on in Valencia. Here I come, a city I don’t know. Here I come. I hope you’re ready for me.
Posted by World Endeavors on June 11, 2019
World Endeavors believes that international travel has the power to change lives, broaden horizons, and deepen intercultural understanding. The world is undergoing rapid changes, with societies becoming more interconnected and environmentally aware; at the same time a more challenging global economy inspires in many a need to reach out and make a positive difference while seeking personal growth opportunities. There has never been a better time than now to travel abroad.