One day, I took a look around my life and realized I wasn't crazy about what I saw. My parents had each gone through their second divorces, messy and painful. Yet another break up with my on-again-off-again boyfriend at the time had me questioning love, marriage, and the idea of commitment. My grandfather had recently passed away, which left me feeling raw. I was turned down for an internship I had been sure I was destined to land, which I thought would be a jumping off point for my career and a perfect excuse to move to the city of my dreams. I felt myself drifting. I was floundering, lost, treading water — and I knew it.
I was in this funk one day at work when I saw an ad soliciting applications for a study abroad program. I was in my junior year at the University of Colorado and had already done more than my fair share of jumping around. But after a few clicks, I was enthralled. It was June, and I could feel it in my bones that I was meant to spend the upcoming semester in Prague. Winter would be the first full semester the program would be sending students to the Anglo-American University, and they wanted more.
I wanted more.
So, I filled out an online application. A few weeks later I got a call saying I had been accepted. It was as simple as that. Before I knew it, I was packing my bags and leaving my apartment behind, explaining to my parents and my now-reconciled-with boyfriend that this was something I needed to do for me. And as summer came to a end, I arrived in Prague with little more than clothes, my camera, and my laptop. It was one of the most liberating experiences I've ever had. My parents weren't there to fall back on. I had no friends. And, most pronounced to me, I had no idea where I was. It was up to me to forge friendships and figure it all out in my new city.
Within a few weeks, I'd made a small group of close-knit friends. I'd met the man I'd end up marrying. I had also determined there was no way I was going to be ready to go back home at the end of my semester. I knew it meant moving out of my apartment and changing arrangements with my university. But I could feel myself growing and changing and knew that whatever it was I was going through wouldn't be finished by the end of the year.
For the first time in my life, I felt as if I could be my own person. Surrounded by strangers, I was totally myself. I was immersed in a culture I knew little about before booking my flight, finding my footing on my own. It felt as if someone had thrown me into the water for the first time in my life, only for me to learn I was part fish. I felt at home in my new country and culture, and found I was at my best and most comfortable when pushed out of my comfort zone, eating new foods and learning new languages. School holidays were spent backpacking through Italy, Denmark and Sweden; I got engaged in the middle of Barcelona’s airport during spring break; we went wine tasting in Moravia, and road tripped through Eastern Europe. My time in Prague forced me to be independent in ways I’d never known, and gave me the confidence in myself and my decisions I had always needed. It ignited a passion for travel and a curiosity of other cultures I’d never known I always harbored.
I’ve racked my brain trying to think of concerns I had or hard lessons I learned, or things I wish I’d done differently. But the truth is that I can’t think of any. Of course, there were some hard times. A man followed me around a market and then onto a bus, which was alarming. I was pickpocketed. I had a few moments of doubt. However, I’ve realized these are all things I could easily have experienced while in the States, and I would have missed out on the greatest adventure in my life so far.
So, if you’re stuck, or thinking of jumping, or wondering whether or not you should make that big move, I have this to say to you: GO. Do it. Take the risk. If it doesn’t work, you can always back track. You move to a new place and you hate it? You can always move again. Life is about fluid movement and growth. You’re not going to get anywhere by standing still.
Alaina is a freelance writer and editor, recovering vegetarian, compulsive spaghetti-eater and a hockey fanatic. You can find her and her husband at an airport usually. When she's not traveling, you can find her at home in Denver, cuddling her two boys or binge watching The Americans.