I’m going to be honest when I say I’ve been thinking of how to write about my study abroad experience since the second week into the program. I even thought, “nah, I’ll just skip it, everyone knows I had a great time.” I’ve dreaded this post, as the happiest days and potential peak of my life is ending (or so I thought).
On my last night in Prague, after goodbye drinks with friends and a walk home of self reflection, I downloaded a couple movies and shows for my plane rides home so I wouldn’t be miserable. That previous Thursday, a friend I met in Prague came to my art exhibit where I showcased my most vulnerable pieces yet. My display was filled with raw poems that correlated to ink and watercolor paintings. Seeing my vulnerability, she recommended I download Brené Brown’s Call to Courage. I’ve read her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, so I didn’t think twice on adding it to my download list.
Fast forward to the day I began traveling home.
I’m in the airport eating my expensive fish and chips. Expensive like “getting scammed at Disney” expensive ($18 for a small tasting). Of course, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on Netflix wasn’t working, which was a big dilemma, as I was heavily invested and just getting to the plot twist where Brad Pitt grows young and cute again. Therefore I begrudgingly put on Brené Brown’s video, and thirty minutes in I felt goosebumps as I absorbed her words that managed to sum up my entire trip.
As I sat and listened, I slowly began to realize two things:
1. God has a sense of humor.
The way he places people, aligned timing, and places into your life that come together, it makes you look up and say, “okay, I see what you did there.” Because leading up to flying back home, I had been internally battling my fear of returning to the United States. Depression, anxiety, perfectionism all felt as though they were going to be greeting me at the gate when I stepped off the plane. A year ago, I was in a mentally distraught state, which is why I decided to study in the Czech Republic in hopes of mitigating my anxieties. Which is why maintaining my happiness was so important and why I was quite honestly terrified of reversing the progress I just spent four months curating my healthiest, happiest and most grateful self. I continuously brainstormed reasonings why I was in heavenly bliss abroad or the “secret solution” that aided me in overcoming my own personal struggles. Finally, as if my life is divided into moments of puzzle pieces, the picture of happiness and joy began to come together...
2. Gratitude is the secret to happiness and a life fulfilled of wholesomeness
With every new destination, I can distinctly remember every moment I found myself thanking God for allowing me to be present in each moment. Sitting on steps drinking wine by a fountain in Rome with a high school friend or looking out over the horizon from atop the Prague castle at the beautiful red-roofed buildings and pastel colored houses. If I wasn’t in the right state of mind, those moments would have been as glorious as they appeared. Yet, because I remained focused on gratitude and thankfulness, I was able to devour every second, hold onto every moment, so that I could carry the keepsake of those vivid pictures in my memory.
Brown says, “no vulnerability, no creativity. No tolerance for failure, no innovation.” She wakes up every day and chooses courage over comfort. And as she said that, my mind flashed to moments where I had to push myself to do something that I wasn’t familiar or comfortable with. Get back into my art, practice drawing things I have neglected for a while.
There were moments I struggled with my own comfort zone. Struggling moments that could be as simple as speaking a language I didn’t know (even though I was terrified of butchering the words). Yet I found ways to push through my comfort zone and expand my boundaries. My everyday tendencies had the most impact in the end, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
I’ll always remember the cute little neighborhood we called home. Looking out the window every day to see the light green wine bar across the street, Le Bouquet. The wine bar where Janine and I had some of our best memories and life talks—talks to reflect and reground ourselves. We befriended the bar owner, Alex. By the end of our semester there, we were filled with such thankfulness for Alex’s company and all the endless laughs he provided, we decided to give him a gift to remember us by. I ended up painting a watercolor and ink of his restaurant, and in return, he gifted us our favorite wine that he would serve us each sitting—Palava. These small exchanges represented our time in Prague. The ability to take so much in and then give back whenever we could.
In essence, it wasn’t the grand trips to different countries or visiting iconic structures like The Louvre or the London Eye that made the adventure worthwhile. It was the simple moments with my friends sprawled out on our beds, laughing at ludicrous things while singing “Old Town Road.”
It was the moments I witnessed glorious sunsets over the Charles Bridge on my tram rides home from class.
The moment we almost missed our bus from Salzburg, with one of our taxi drivers chasing after it on a highway to pull it over. (We were successful, however, the bus driver, had some “unkind” words for us Americans.)
It was the worthwhile moments of sitting in the park outside our University watching the peacocks scour for crumbs. The moments we’d scream our favorite lyrics at the top of our lungs at our favorite 80’s club, then eat McDonald’s or Pizza Hut on our walk home, hunched over laughing at obscurities. The moments I sang with my dear friend under a willow tree.
These are a few of the many simple things that made my four months so spectacular; however, what reigned supreme were the connections. The connections that allowed me to gain sincere appreciation and newfound gratitude for life. I may be taking back souvenirs for family members, but also taking lessons to live in the same grateful mindset. It doesn’t take a vast trip across the world for your life to become enriched and meaningful. Maybe it already is but you’re neglecting some part of you, person, job, or dream that is hindering you from true happiness.
So fast forward to the plane ride home. I am on the third leg to get back home, watching Brown elaborate on gratitude, and recall a text from my dear friend, Chris Hixon, who I swear might be telepathic. He is a friend that is a true inspiration, and somehow ironically always seems to text me at perfect times. He is one of those friends that isn’t afraid to dive into depthful conversations on life, loss, depression, and vulnerability. He texted that morning beginning to talk about how he was reflecting on gratitude. I asked if he would let me share this in my post. He happily confirmed.
“CHRIS: Today is one year since I took the leap of faith and came back to Orlando. It’s been a whirlwind. So many new connections and old friendships that have come to life. But then I think of the dark times I’ve had, too. The terrible nights and the times where I wasn’t kind to myself. It’s crazy how far you can come in a year.
I found myself thankful for those nights. A lot of times we ask, “why do bad things happen to good people?” Or “why am faced with terrible thoughts?” But I know that God doesn’t force us to experience these bad things. He allows it. He allows us to lean into the darkness because his light won’t go away. I think we need to go into the darkness to appreciate the power of that light.
It’s like when you swim for the first time or ride a bike. Eventually your dad is going to let go. And in that moment you panic because all you see is the unknown in front of you when you’re barely stable. But what you don’t see are the two hands right behind you that are ready to hold on and refuse to let you fall.”
So if you’re still here and read all the way to the end, I hope you take away something: it doesn’t take a massive flight across the world to change your perspective. It doesn’t take traveling to gain joy or love or self-confidence. But rather, rest in knowing that your life on earth is measured by the times you soak in the gratefulness of the simple things; the things you don’t realize you’ll miss one day.
So please, wherever you are right now, mentally and physically: know that you are loved. That there are so many things left to discover and live for, and moments to be present in.
Your adventure of a lifetime is, quite literally, outside your back door. And everyday is a new adventure added to our journey, and there is someone looking out for you who truly won’t let you fall.
P.S. Thank you to the friends who had to proofread this. I should probably start paying you but will pay you in gratitude hehe. And last but not least, my dream team Zahrebska 10 girlies, and of course: I’ll never be able to say enough words to thank my parents for this experience and owe all this to them. So cheers to my amazing mom and dad, who keep me uplifted and always moving forward.