Posted by Rebecca Tjahja
Everybody has one of those semesters where nothing feels like it is going right, and that was my Spring 2016 semester in a nutshell. A combination of personal, academic, and emotional challenges clouded my mind and I started to feel like I was losing sight of who I was and what I wanted. Therefore, when it came time to begin planning what I was going to do over the summer, I quickly chose the option that I knew would help me re-focus and clear my mind: A semester of study abroad and travel. I wanted a change of scenery, new things to challenge me, and so I planned a trip to Europe where I would backpack through 16 countries and study at the London School of Economics.
I started off in Budapest, Hungary and made my way around Eastern and Western Europe. I think what differentiated time abroad is that for majority of my trip I traveled alone. I absolutely loved the experience and would not have changed a single thing if given the chance. Traveling alone, especially as a female young adult, is something not a lot of people do simply because of the valid concerns about safety. However, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to travel. Granted, experiencing travel with someone you love is always an amazing experience, but traveling alone allows you to rediscover the things you love about yourself. I do not mean that in an egotistical way at all, but in a way where you learn to become your own best friend and go through various developmental and challenging experiences relying only on yourself. Going into a new country, knowing no one, not speaking the language, but having to figure out how to get to the places you want to go to and safely back to your hotel or hostel at night taught me so many skills, and even more about myself and how to handle life going on around me at my own pace.
Another key to having one of the most formative summers of my life was taking the opportunity to turn strangers into friends. I learned so much about myself through my interactions with other travellers and natives, all with such different backgrounds and cultures. It was a truly eye-opening experience. From the girl from China I met while paragliding in Switzerland, to the backpacker from Ireland who I met at a bus station on the way to Paris, to the two college girls who were taking a break from studying for finals and decided to swim with me off the dock in Denmark, every single story about their lives brought more light to mine. My favorite group of friends that I met was a group of around eight Australians that I can honestly say I have become lifelong friends with despite the land and sea that separates us.
Looking back at my experience abroad, I am in absolute awe of how transformative my time was. I would not be the student, friend, and overall person I am today without the unparalleled experiences that I had. I left America feeling very unsure about myself and the future, and came back having learned how to be truly independent and take life by the reins and experience it day by day like it’s my last.