Until the summer after my first year of college, I had never traveled internationally. Sure, my family and I had traveled within the contiguous United States, but never abroad. Especially when money was tight with my two sisters and me in college all at the same time, having the privilege to study and live in a beautiful but foreign place like Salzburg, Austria was possibly the scariest and most anxiety-inducing thing I had ever done at that point.
But it was also the best and most memorable experience I could have ever had, and would turn out to influence my life in ways I had never imagined.
Since I had never traveled overseas before, I had known there was something I was missing, but I wasn’t quite sure what. Once I found out exactly what that was – lush, breathtaking mountains that pierced the alpine sky; a rich and storied history touched by musical geniuses and cultural icons; possibly the friendliest people I have ever met – I caught a classic case of the travel bug. Upon returning to the States, all I could think about was how to go back to Salzburg, a place I easily learned to call home.
Related: Discover the best things to do and see in Salzburg with my Ultimate Female Solo Travel Guide to Salzburg!
As I obsessed over how to go back – over how to travel anywhere else, really – I began to realize traveling meant more to me than just something to do in between semesters, or while attending conferences as a neurologist and medical researcher in the future. I wanted more than that. But I was passionate about what I was studying, and fretted over how to incorporate this into my career plans. Everyone continued to warn me of the same fact of medicine:
“If you have any inkling whatsoever that you want to do anything else besides medicine, go do it. Once you enter medical school, there’s no turning back.”
Related: Check out my top recommended activities and tours in Albania below!
For a while, I convinced myself that I was passionate enough about healthcare that I could be content making sacrifices. I convinced myself I would be okay with a career that would likely keep me in the same location for most of my life, would require me to give up my life (savings) for countless hours and years of training, and would likely require me to spend more time in front of a computer than actual patients. As I began taking more classes that were relevant to my Neuroscience major and worked in a highly-esteemed medical research laboratory, I realized two things:
- Sacrificing your mental health and well-being, especially in a subject you turn out to not be as interested in as you originally thought, is not worth it for the grade. No matter how much of a perfectionist you are (like me), learning to be satisfied with whatever the results are of your hardest work is one of the best things you can do to become happier within academics.
- Never try to ignore being ignored. If you are working your hardest and longest and that effort is still unacknowledged by your superiors, don’t put up with that. That environment is toxic. Leave.
Late during my second semester of sophomore year, I decided to quit my research job for some of the above reasons, finally recognizing that I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. Though this turned my entire world upside down as I realized that my career plans and life track would not play out as smoothly as I had originally imagined, I knew that there had to be an opportunity out there for that coming summer and beyond that was perfect for me; it was just a matter of finding it. I couldn’t help but remember what the flawless Julie Andrews said as Maria in The Sound of Music:
That’s where Albania comes in.
Though it was incredibly late in the game to find an internship in general, let alone an international internship, I decided to head to the International Internship Office anyways to speak with them about opportunities that were still available. That’s where I first found opportunity in Albania. After conversing for a while with a student there, I asked about her own internship experience during the previous summer with the National Coastal Authority of Albania in Tirana, the capital of Albania. I was immediately intrigued. Albania was not even on my radar in terms of places to travel; heck, I wasn’t even sure I could find it on a map. But as I continued to listen, it sounded like the perfect opportunity – the perfect window, one might say – that had miraculously opened up for me in the midst of all that was going on.
After connecting with the Director of the organization and frantically applying for last-minute funding, I secured the position and smiled through tears as I was overcome by how perfectly things had fallen into place with this opportunity in Albania. Over the course of one week, I went from thinking I would be unemployed for the summer; that my month abroad in Salzburg would be the only international trip my family or I could afford for many years; that all of my life plans had fallen apart; to believing that no matter how much things change, if you pursue something with 110% effort, often you will be surprised by your good fortune.
Living in Albania for 9 weeks will certainly be an adventure with lots of firsts – first time living alone, first apartment, first time having no Americans around – and I am totally scared, yet totally excited for this completely different direction my life has taken. A year ago, I would have thought you were crazy if you told me this is where I would be now.
Related: Discover dreamy trips in Albania that will satisfy anyone with my ultimate local’s guide!
I say all this to impress upon you, dear reader, that I am passionate about traveling, and I understand the unique barriers, particularly those concerning finances and time, that college students often face as they attempt to travel. My adventures abroad thus far have been a truly transformative and eye-opening experience, and so it is my mission to guide and inspire other people to live out their dreams of traveling abroad when it never seemed possible. I invite you to join me as I figure out my own crazy and beautiful adventure in Albania, providing useful tips, tricks, hacks, and destination guides along the way to make your dreams of traveling a reality. There is no need to drop out of college, quit your day job, or become a digital nomad to see all that this world has to offer. I hope that through this blog, I can be your guide and companion along the way.
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