Last May, I traveled to London for my Goshen College Study-Service term (SST) requirement.I was ecstatic in the planning stage — creating vision boards, tailoring music playlists and even watching “Notting Hill,” starring my favorite romantic-comedy queen, Julia Roberts, more than once.
Of course, my stomach was in knots up until departure. It was the first time in my 23 years I would be traveling abroad.
From the bus ride to the airport and onward, all my peers seemed to know what they were doing: navigating the TSA process, checking bags and understanding where to go.
Unfortunately, I did not.
Despite a pounding heart rate, I got on a 10+ hour plane to London and soon stepped foot onto the chaotic grounds of Heathrow Airport. I loved it.
As I watched taxi cabs speed by, listened to the winding sounds of bikes and walked through London’s beautiful, yet grubby streets, I felt a sense of gratitude and appreciation for this bustling city.
My heart for literature also beamed as we traveled to museums, attended Shakespeare events and met published authors.
A goal of mine is to travel to as many places as my bank account can afford.
Not only do I want to be able to explore new places, but I also want to interact with those who are different from me.
Sometimes, living in Goshen feels limited, as if I’m not expanding my circle of inclusion.
London was one of the first steps in doing that.
However, it finally hit me in the final weeks of the trip: life abroad was different from the Julia Roberts movie I had watched repeatedly.
It seemed like the lives of Londoners were never on pause in such a massive city.
I got sick with an annoying cough and my asthma made sleeping difficult.
I also began to miss home and kept telling myself I could never do a three-month SST trip as my peers often do.
All of this is to say I entered my first abroad experience with a specific idea of what the term would entail.
I did not think of the minor hiccups that would creep their way into this overseas adventure — I fell into the trap of romanticizing an experience focused solely on the positive.
Under the guise of being too sick, I wanted to stay in my hotel room one day until a friend encouraged me to take a trip to Kensington Gardens — ironically located just south of Notting Hill.
As I laughed with others, I watched the children happily toss crumbs of bread to the swans and remembered my first time as a child doing so. The smell of white roses reminded me of those at the floral shop near my house.
These moments forced me to piece together three crucial truths:
Traveling abroad is not always fun.
Home is omnipresent.
Remember the why.
Even though these experiences can feel isolating, I will carry these truths with me as I travel to places I have always dreamed of going. I will remember that home can be felt anywhere, be it through the scent of white roses or swans in the park.
There is now less desire to idealize the places I have yet to encounter, with more emphasis on remembering why I wanted to go in the first place.