Oh the Places You’ll Go: But First You May Need a Push

Approximately two years ago, I received news that would change my life forever.

On Friday, February 8th, 2013, I was accepted to study abroad in Fremantle, Western Australia. I didn’t know it then, but I was about to embark on a journey that would change my entire perspective on the world, my life, and my thinking. And I almost didn’t go.

If it weren’t for the forceful support of one of my best friends (who literally snatched my acceptance form and turned it into Notre Dame’s Study Abroad Office before I could have second thoughts), and the gentle insistence of my mother (after a massive breakdown filled with tears and spewing anxieties), I quite possibly would have never left terra ‘Merica. I was afraid. I was afraid about missing home. About missing my family. About missing my friends. About missing Notre Dame and the entire life I’ve fallen into here. I had never left the country before, and I was scared to go so far away.

So my advice to the sophomores who are going to get their acceptance letters in a few days is this: Just say yes.

You cannot say “no” to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The people I have met, the things I have seen, and the stuff I have done are like things out of a movie. Yet, those things were my life, and I was living it to its fullest extent. To quote Pocahontas, “If you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew” (Ahem, “Colors of the Wind”).

Biking 26km, riding an elephant, and white water rafting down a mountain.

Studying abroad has given me so many new perspectives and insights into life. I find myself able to think in ways much more complex and in-depth than I used to, and to be able to see sides of issues that I previously would never have considered.

For the first time in my life, in the middle of a restaurant in Singapore, I was the only blonde, Caucasian person in the room. Some people, even at Notre Dame, deal with being the only Asian, Hispanic, Black, Native American, or Pacific Islander in the room on a regular basis. Finally, I was the minority. For me, much like many others coming from middle-class suburban Midwest America, this was out of my comfort zone. It was good for me.

Furthermore, the closest I’ve ever come to camping was in a party tent in my best friends’ fenced backyard. Now, I’ve spent a week camping in 95+ degree heat, covered in dirt, waking with the sun, living with Aborigines.... and I loved every second of it. 

Camping in the Outback

The point is, everyone needs to get pushed out of his or her comfort zone. We all need to do something crazy and take a risk. I’m not talking about the #YOLO kind of risk. I’m talking about stepping outside of what you know and what you consider “safe.” At Notre Dame, we are often sheltered in a bubble of school, work, activities, resume building, partying, studying, projects, Career Fairs, interviews, applications, labs, dining halls, movie nights, practices, volunteering; whatever it is, pick your poison(s). We carve out the niches of our lives and settle firmly into routines that we know and feel comfortable in. 

Going abroad changes all that. You learn how to be flexible. You learn how to roll with the punches. You learn how to say goodbye to your license plate underwear at the Melbourne airport because you need to make baggage weight or risk another $100 overage charge.

You learn that life isn’t about taking a picture, but rather making a memory. In order to do that, you have to put the camera down. Literally and figuratively.

I’m not trying to sound all knowing and wise here, and I’m not trying to BS anybody. I just want to make a case to those of you who may be a little bit hesitant about this next step in your life. Trust me, I had never traveled before. Now I realize that the experience far outstripped any lesson I could ever have learned in a classroom or sitting on my couch or cheering at a Notre Dame Football Game (BLASPHEMY).

So, consider this my push—a little nudge from me to you. You have to go. And be thankful it’s a verbal nudge, because I’m not opposed to physical ones. Off of cliffs. 

Friday, February 7th, 2014, could be the day that will change your life forever.

 

Cliff Jumping

 

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Photos provided by author