Studying abroad terrifies me, perhaps even more so than it does the average person, and perhaps even more than it really should. I’m naturally a quiet person, an introvert. For every hour I spend in the “real world,” I like to spend two hours in my own. So, many would be surprised to learn, I think, that I have studied abroad.
First, I traveled to Costa Rica, the land of coffees and Ticos and the “pura vida” mentality. You cannot imagine the anxiety I felt before boarding the plane to San José. Such was the fear, in fact, that I refused to leave my family’s hotel room the evening before my flight. Second thoughts clouded my thinking. “I am not the type of person who can do this,” I told myself. I have never flown. I have never spent more than a week away from my parents and the Midwestern life of an Ohioan was the only one I knew.
Ironically, it was my parents, the same people who begged me not to travel abroad, who convinced me that I had to do this. I wanted to travel for so long. I wanted to experience the world, to become cultured, to have adventures. For about two years (my junior and senior years of high school), traveling and languages and geography made up the bulk of my conversations. It was what I wanted, even if my emotions disagreed that night in my parents’ hotel room.
And so the next morning, I joined my twenty new classmates (the people with whom I was to travel the world for the next four years), and journeyed to my ultimate destination, the place that was to be my home for one year—Heredia, Costa Rica.
At this point, you probably expect me to say that suddenly everything changed, that suddenly I no longer had that same feeling of temerity. But the truth is that I was still scared, even as I climbed into my new bed that first night. Everything was new and exciting and wonderful and, yes, scary, but the year passed and with it my anxiety passed too. Heredia, Costa Rica became as familiar to me as Columbus, Ohio. By the time I returned home the next summer, I actually felt a sort of reverse-anxiety. After all, this place had become my home.
That journey is one that I have experienced again. This year, I moved in September of 2013, to Vilnius, Lithuania. Like clockwork, the night before my international flight, I curled up in my bed, trembled, and asked myself if I can handle it. You would think that I had become immune to such thoughts of insecurity, but I would be lying if I said I did. Traveling terrifies me. But it is the adventure, the voyage into the unknown, that gives me the greatest joy, for when the adventure is done, and I board the plane to go home, that unknown is now familiar. With each of my travels came a significant discovery, both a geographical one, and a personal.
This blog is going to tell the story of my study abroad experience in Lithuania. Unlike my last experience, I am not here with my classmates. I do not have a Center where I take classes. I do not have a host family through whom I may immerse myself in the culture. Here, I am an intern in the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius. You can follow my intern-y escapades here and at my State Department blog: http://vilnius-diaries.blogspot.com/.