From the moment I boarded the plane to Innsbruck and watched the ground shrink beneath me as the plane ascended into the clouds, I wondered about the person I would be when my study abroad experience was over. It hadn’t even begun, and I was already imagining the end. Who would I be? I had heard from numerous people who had studied abroad in years past that the experience changes you, but I just didn’t really believe it. How can someone change and grow so much in just six weeks? Only a week has gone by since I’ve been back home, and I’ve known long before now that those people were right. I have grown in ways that I couldn’t have even hoped for.
Innsbruck was a dream. It definitely almost feels like that’s all it was. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think that I dreamt the whole thing up. I picture myself walking down the streets of Innsbruck or navigating foreign countries by myself, and I almost can’t believe that it actually happened. But it was real, and I can feel its effects internally. I am so much stronger and so much more confident about who I am and what I’m capable of.
Innsbruck forced me completely out of my comfort zone. When I got there I was a shy girl who didn’t know anyone. I was in a foreign place with absolutely no friends, and I was terrified that I would never make any. I knew long before I even went to Innsbruck that this circumstance would be challenging for me, and it was one of the reasons that I wanted to do it so badly. The first day I got there I saw that basically everyone else in the program, all 300 students, already had friends that they had come with. I pictured myself being alone the entire trip. But I wasn’t. I met some of the most incredible people and made some of the greatest friends I have ever had. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything, and I’m so grateful that I had the courage to do it.
Sometimes I think you have to be truly lost before you begin to find yourself. I think it’s only when you put yourself in a completely unfamiliar situation that you really start to understand who you are and where you really want to go. I had gotten so comfortable with my friends and my life at UF that I lost the drive and yearning for new experiences that I had always had, and Innsbruck brought those characteristics to life again. I think my biggest fear about returning to UF is that I’ll slip back into the person that I used to be. I don’t think I ever want to be that person again. I don’t ever want to be too comfortable about where I am to want to move forward. I don’t want to be afraid to talk to new people or to have new experiences. I don’t want my fear of failure to prevent me from trying new things.
On the plane ride back to Tampa, I sat next to a girl who was on her way home from studying abroad in Florence for six weeks. She asked me if there was anything I regretted about my experience abroad or anything I wished I had gotten to do. It only took me a few seconds to realize that my answer was no. There is nothing I would change about my experience. I didn’t let anything stop me from accomplishing everything I had set out to and from having the absolute time of my life.
I never knew it would be so hard to come back. No one had ever told me. I’ve mentally separated my life into two parts: my life before Innsbruck and my life after Innsbruck. I’m still trying to figure out how to connect the two.
I can honestly say that I fell in love this summer. I fell in love with a beautiful country, a beautiful city, beautiful people and a beautiful culture. My grandfather always says that one trip must end before another can begin. Leaving Innsbruck was one of the hardest things to deal with, but I know he’s right. I know now that I will always go back to Innsbruck. It will always be a part of me. But there are still so many other places for me to discover and experience, and this is just the beginning.