“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
If I thought my life was flipped upside down before I came to Albania what with changing my major, quitting my research job, and deciding not to pursue medical school, I don’t even know how to describe all that has changed over the past three months and the impact that my internship has had. Though I gathered some concrete, practical skills for the future, such as grant-writing and communicating with diverse co-workers, as well as the knowledge that I could never work a desk job in an office all day, most of the skills I acquired this summer are life lessons. They are life lessons of growth and self-discovery, allowing me to uncover endless possibilities by simply packing my bag, moving my feet, and opening my heart.
The most wonderful parts of a journey are those that are unexpected, filled with the most wonderful people met under the most random of circumstances. Without these individuals that I met in Albania and elsewhere in Europe, my own self-discovery that has taken place this summer would not have been possible. This is a key component of traveling, working, and living abroad – pay close attention to those around you; introduce yourself and learn more about them. Each and every one of us are on our own unique and separate journeys through life, but sometimes (and often when you least expect it), your path meets someone else’s in a way that was meant to be. Each and every individual you meet has the potential to change your life for the better, whether that’s accomplished through an exchange of ideas, experiences, emotions, or all three.
Some of these people were individuals that I met under those most random of circumstances in Albania. I went to the Riviera in Dhermi for the weekend with three others I had met in Tirana in various ways: a 23 year-old from Canada running the entirety of AISEC in Albania (who has turned into one of my best friends), an Albanian friend she met in Tirana, and a guy from Brazil also working for AISEC. While we were at our campsite in Dhermi one night, we overheard a group of eight or so others speaking English, and so we went over to introduce ourselves and see where they were from. They hailed from across the globe, including Chile, New Zealand, South Korea, and Germany, and had all met in several places in the Balkans while solo traveling. We ended up spending the rest of the night all together, talking, laughing, and sharing travel stories, harmoniously representing at least eight countries on five continents. This is possibly my number-one favorite thing about traveling: we all get to be ambassadors for our respective countries, and despite any differences, we come together and unite through the common experience of exploration, learning, and understanding. However, the flipside of these amazing exchanges means that at some point, you have to say goodbye, and I thought this situation was no different. I was wrong.
Two weeks later, on one last spontaneous trip through Europe working remotely for my internship with one backpack and no plans, I arrived in Florence, Italy. Planning on staying for one night, I ended up staying for three because of the amazing people I met in my hostel. Next, Germany popped into my mind, and off I went to stay with the friend I made in Dhermi. Three days turned into four and then five and then seven (this is what happens when you meet great people traveling – whether you want to believe it or not, your plans will change) as we explored his hometown of Dortmund and the surrounding area in western Germany. While we were walking around near the end of my stay, we came across a wall with bold, vibrant street art, ranging from typical graffiti tags to elaborate, metaphorical illustrations. He told me these pictures change daily, as anyone is free to paint where they please. As we continued to walk, I stopped at an illustration of a face with sparkling brown eyes and the words, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears,” painted underneath. It struck me with its simple yet bold statement. For me, this instance was the pinnacle of my internship/travel experiences, because in a way, I was that wall this summer. Almost every day was new and ever-changing; I inherently understood that just like the art before me, nothing is forever. Each illustration represented the impressions and influences fellow travelers have had on me as we have crossed paths; we met, engaged with each other, maybe we even became great friends, but eventually, we continue our separate ways and continue to keep on changing and evolving.
Likewise, those words that struck me so suddenly explain a lot about my travels. My choice to travel reflects my hopes for a more peaceful, enlightened, and connected world; I do not let the fear of hate and terror keep me from experiencing my love for the freedom and beauty of the earth. None of us can let fear keep us from living, because as I continue to say and will keep on saying until the end of time, life begins when you step outside of your comfort zone. You turn one-day stays into three and three-day stays into seven all because of the beautiful people that you meet by wonderful chance. You discover who you are, what you like, what you want, and what you need (and what you don’t need). You feel connected on a deeper level to something greater than all of this; to a network of people who just want to live through seeing as much as they can see, experiencing as much as they can experience, and being all that they can be. And though travel does indubitably change one, travel hasn’t made me a different person; rather, it has made me the best version of myself: a much wiser, clear-headed, and content individual on a simple and grand mission to see the world, and to touch the lives of others as they have touched mine.
We all like to joke at one point or another that we hate people. People are emotional. People are unpredictable. People are difficult. Before this internship, I didn’t really consider myself a people-person. But now I know that interacting with other human beings is where I experience the real joy in what I do. To all of those I met along the way: you know who you are. Thank you so much to each and every one of you for making a distinct and unique impact on my life that I will cherish for the rest of my years. Thank you as well to everyone who made all of this possible. We humans might be a big mess, and life might be an even bigger mess, but everything happens for a reason. Thank you to everyone who enabled me to see and experience these truths.
I do not face the world alone, but together with all of those who have touched my life through travel. Just because I’m traveling solo doesn’t ever mean that I’m traveling alone.
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