a semester in York, England
Steve Humer, York England
“Change and growth takes place when a person has risked himself and dares to become involved with experimenting with his own life.” – Herbert A. Otto
I look in the bathroom mirror one last time, take a deep breath, and remind myself that my life is just that: mine. I travel light, yet I check, double-check and triple-check to make sure I’m not forgetting anything.
I grip my red Keene State College study abroad folder and the internal dialog starts to ramp up. “Okay, Steve. It’s happening. You’re getting on a plane and you’re going to England for four months.”
The anxiety and the excitement mix into a heaping pile of contradicting emotions.
The anxiety side rears its ugly head one more time, “I have to make the best of this trip. I can’t let it go to waste.”
Expectations trickle in from all the friends, family, advisors and teachers who told me how life changing and useful this experience would be. The following two-hour car ride to the airport turns into regular small talk; my appearance is composed, more than expected. As I embrace my father for a lasting hug at the security checkpoint, another thought trickles in, “I’m so thankful for my family, and this opportunity.” The calm demeanor has changed as I walk jello-legged toward the terminals. I turn around to give a wave goodbye and struggle to hold back my tears of gratitude.
That was January, this is April. The sleepless overnight flight and surreal walk through the Manchester, England terminal on a snowy Jan. 21 is still etched into my brain as an everlasting memory of unfamiliarity. Today, the writing of this article occurs from the corner of the York St. John school library, where having five British students surround me feels like just another day. As I dig through mental details of the days past, I realize how much has happened between now and then.
From wandering the dark empty streets of York alone, lost and afraid at 3 a.m. on my second day to leading my friends confidently back to campus two months later, I have grown to learn an entire city from scratch.
From being exposed as an American when speaking a single sentence in front of a lecture hall of 100 students, I have grown to see what it means to stand out and represent a cultural minority. From hearing my history professor talk about the American Revolutionary War, to my marketing professor talk about UK businesses, I have grown to appreciate new perspective and beliefs.
I traveled through Europe for 25 days with friends. We walked miles exploring the luxuries of London; from the Changing of the Guard, to the beauty of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, to the array of history contained in the various museums and galleries.
We rode bikes through Amsterdam’s Vondelpark, while spending time to explore their history of tolerance, legalized marijuana and prostitution.
We were humbled by the preserved past of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan, while finding contrast in the Austrians, French, Italians, Indians and Dutch who stayed in the same hostel as us. We were inspired by the work and donation in Oslo, Norway of a single man, Gustav Vigeland, the designer of the Nobel Peace Prize, for his life work in the form of his sculpture arrangement.
We wandered into American bars in Chania, Greece to eventually find ourselves sitting in a strip club, only later to find ourselves drinking with a group of Polish travelers.
The Il Duomo in Florence, Italy, its massive structure even more overwhelming than York’s Minster, was a reminder of the lavish cathedrals in existence and the influence of religion around the world.
Finally, our stay in Barcelona, Spain gave us the most awe-worthy view from the top of Park Guell, already one of the largest architectural works in southern Europe, with a 360-degree lesson in beauty.
Throughout my journey abroad, I realize that which is universal.
We fear what we do not know, it takes courage to talk to someone new, leadership is always desired, talk is cheap, money drives business, and we all have to stand up to stand out.
No matter who I have met, whether it was the Australian girl on the Barcelona metro, the hotel owner in Greece, the Swedish bartender in Italy who spoke six languages, the tour guides in Stockholm and Amsterdam, the flat mate from Gibraltar or the three Chinese girls in my presentation group, we all desire to connect, be understood, and appreciated.
I have missed my family, loved my travels, appreciated new friendships, held on to old friendships, became familiar with unfamiliar environments and longed to give back to the world for all that I have experienced. Study abroad gave me something that you cannot find in books, on the Internet or through discussion.
It gave me momentum–momentum to see more, do more and feel more; momentum to share, to show and to teach. It is this momentum that drives my actions, compels me to write this article and pushes me to complete work even when I don’t want to.
For this, I am forever indebted to those who made studying abroad possible and I will continue to build true wealth by experiencing the world one location at a time.