My latest trip felt like a big wake-up call to me. It was like everything that I had been feeling from my last exchange adventure, which I had tried so desperately to cover up and bury during my time at school and convince myself that I was happy when I really wasn’t, suddenly all boiled to the surface. It was like someone slapped a door in my face, and told me to wake up and take a serious look at my life. Why wasn’t I happy?
Somewhere between the lone wanderings, new friendships, nights spent laughing in hotel rooms in foreign cities, endless sangria, delicious food, allergic reactions, getting lost and found, dying in insane heat, running around new cities intoxicated, admiring architecture and art work, exploring new places and discovering new things, it hit me that I had been lying to myself. For awhile. And because of that, I was no longer myself. And that was a big, big problem.
When I got back from my exchange, it was a big adjustment. It definitely was hard. The summer was easier because I returned to my hometown, my family and my friends. I had similar jobs and everything was okay. Not great, but okay. But then I went back to school. And damn, it was hard. I told myself that it would be better because I had finally decided on a major and I thought I would meet new people. Aside from that, I had a bunch of friends that I could re-connect with. Well… That didn’t go exactly as planned. Turned out these friends weren’t the greatest, and we drifted apart very quickly. I slowly began to make new friends in my major program, but it was difficult for me to make those connections. And I really couldn’t figure out why. Was there something wrong with me?
I started having doubts. I got sick often. My boyfriend had surgery and couldn’t work for a while, which put a lot of additional stress on me. I had to pick up a job so we could get by, on top of my full course load and my recent acceptance into the co-op program. This is not a pity party and I am not asking for anyone to feel sorry for me. I asked for all of these things and brought it on to myself. The problem wasn’t so much the things themselves, it was that I genuinely thought that doing all of these things would make me happy. Even more than that, I convinced myself that these things made me happy.
At the beginning of January, I had a major breakdown. My body physically shut down because I was dealing with so much stress and piling too much work onto myself. I was sick for a few weeks, but eventually, I got back onto my feet. I cut back a lot on what I was doing. I got a new job writing for The Global Spectrum, which I loved. To be honest, that is probably what saved me from a downward spiral. Writing about things I care about, engaging with a community of people who were passionate about these topics, and making connections this way was incredible. I am so grateful I had the chance to be a part of it. It kept me afloat for the rest of the semester, which went by quickly.
Before I knew it, I was finishing my finals, signing a contract for my first co-op position, and packing my bags for the Global Seminar. Everything seemed like it had fallen into place and I was feeling pretty good about myself and where I was going. I felt like I had a clear path for the future: school, coop, writing. All in Kelowna. Boy, was I wrong.
Then I went on my trip. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, that was when everything changed. I don’t know what it is, but every time I go to Europe, I see my life with new eyes and I am irrevocably changed. This trip was no different.
First, I went to Italy. Living with Italian relatives who speak only Italian when you don’t speak any Italian was quite the challenge, more so than I realized. But it was a good experience for me. I picked up on the language a little bit, and it was so nice to see relatives, some whom I had never met and some whom I hadn’t seen in years. I ate a lot of pizza and pasta. My only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer.
Next, I went to Spain. I was excited to be travelling on my own again in Barcelona. I think that was when the realizations started to kick in. Being on your own puts things into perspective. It was nice. I liked being by myself, making my own decisions, having faith in myself. It was something I hadn’t felt in awhile, and it felt good, to know that I could take care of myself. Going to Madrid was when I joined the group of students for the Global Seminar. That in itself was a challenge. What if I didn’t get along with anyone? What if the course was too hard? All futile questions that I need not have worried about. By the end of our time in Madrid, I had made some incredible friends and amazing memories. I was beginning to grow the faith in myself even more, but I was also beginning to realize the importance of surrounding yourself with people who truly support you and want to lift you up to be the best you can be.
Morocco was my next destination. It was a whirl of excitement for me. We only had four short days in Morocco, and it went by so quickly that it was hard for me to fully process what was happening. After some reflection, I have come to process what did happen: I became strong. I became confident and sure of myself. I grew stronger friendships by the day. I was not afraid to be in a new place and go exploring (even if it means winding up getting chased in a ghetto). I was starting to feel like myself, the person I had been, but somehow lost along the way.
Portugal was our final stop. This is where it really hit me. All of a sudden, I realized that the trip would be ending soon and I was not at all ready for it to be over. I wanted more time. To grow, to discover, to learn, to change. I could feel it. I felt it walking alone in the streets of Lisbon, getting lost and finding my way back again. I felt it in the whirr of the metro and my ability to navigate the city. I felt it walking along the shoreline of the ocean and wading in its waters. I felt it looking at the view from various rooftop bars and viewpoints. I felt it partying at Urban Beach at 4 am. I felt it in burgers and ciders with friends. I felt it in brunch, I felt it in dancing, I felt it all. I had re-discovered the person I used to be, or better yet, the person I was meant to be, and I wasn’t ready to let her go just yet. Leaving Portugal when I so desperately wanted to stay was hard. I did. not. want. to. leave. It was that simple. Coming home is what was hard.
I returned back to Kelowna late that night. It was the next day when it fully hit me. The door finally slammed me in the face, and I woke up. I could not stay on the path I was on, or I would self-destruct. I had been doing it already without fully realizing it. I could no longer convince myself that I was happy with the life I was living once I had gotten a taste of what it could be. Out there. Away from here. And so, I made the decision to change it. Too many people (myself included) have life-changing experiences, but are too afraid to actually change their lives after it happens. I am not going to let that happen this time. I have to move forward and reach for what I know I can become. I know what I want, and I will not let anything hold me back.