Throughout my year abroad, a few glimpses have appeared in my imagination of what this moment might feel like—the moment where I lay in my bed at home and write my final reflections on what has been the most incredible adventure of my life. I certainly predicted correctly that this juncture would feel overwhelming, trying to encapsulate my experiences and provide some wisdom from all the lessons I have learned. It’s hard to know exactly where to start, since in a way this chapter is all part of the same journey of life that is continuously changing. No matter the number of places we go, the amount of people we meet, and the multitude of adventures we have, they all seem to blend into this beautiful story we call life. It is a story that is born, grows, and takes on new forms and meanings as all those that experience it evolve.
However, coming home from South America really is part of perhaps the biggest transition I have experienced so far in my life. I chose to study abroad for the entirety of my senior year (moving from Buenos Aires to Quito), so coming home feels like the end of an era. Not only am I transitioning back to the United States, but away from my undergraduate career, and have moved to a new state. So, it feels a bit like the end of a big chapter because I designed my college career like this on purpose. I wanted the end of it to be momentous. I wanted to spend it doing something that would truly prepare me for the rest of my life—learning through experience.
I knew that travel would be an integral part of my life ever since I started doing it at a ripe age of 14. I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a few student travel programs in high school and since then I have sought out every possible opportunity for adventure, both at home and afar. When I started my college search, I knew I wanted to attend a school that would offer these sorts of opportunities. I knew I wanted to study International Affairs, spend time in Latin America, live with host families, and improve my Spanish. It’s a little surreal thinking back to when I was at 14, envisioning this journey playing out a lot like the way it did.
My short, four-month semester in Ecuador went a little like this, too. I left Argentina knowing the following semester would likely be more difficult than it was in Buenos Aires—more socially isolating, a little more anxiety-inducing. Nevertheless, I would luckily be able to be a lot more chill and independent. I would probably be able to travel more. It would be equally as marvelous. And so, that is a lot like how it went. Basically, if you live your life at all like I do, it can be one giant self-fulfilling prophecy.
At the same time, however, there is always another side to things. There is the side that includes the real, spontaneous, confusing, awe-inducing, and fear-provoking moments that leave you feeling different than expected. Like the time my phone got stolen in Brazil right after I had lost my computer, or the time I spent hours profusely vomiting on a hard floor in the middle of the rainforest, or the time(s) I got totally lost on the wrong side of town. There were the times when people talked about me in front of me, unaware I understood them perfectly. There were also times when people showed a little more love than I anticipated, and times when I made unexpected, beautiful connections with peers and even strangers on the street.
Often, especially in the beginning of my semesters abroad, I felt shocked, disappointed, or overwhelmed by the unexpected. However, throughout the past few months I have learned that if we see all these moments as part of this grand story, they start to feel a little magical. There’s a mantra from one of my favorite books, Zen and the Art of Happiness by Chris Prentiss, that everything that happens to you is the best thing that could possibly happen to you. It may sound radical, ridiculous, foolish, even, but once truly considered, can be pretty life changing. It’s a mantra that no matter where I am or whatever happens to me, can be true.
I love to travel because when seen through this lens, everything that happens feels like an incredible adventure. I am beyond lucky to have had the opportunity to travel as much as I have, and it is one of the many things I am most grateful for in life. However, I know that I don’t have to go far for life to keep feeling full of prophecy, spontaneity, and magic. All it takes is to get up, get out there, and start noticing all of the beauty, coincidence, and charm that exists in every corner of the world.
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My name is Elise Fuente and I'm a senior at The George Washington University in Washington, DC. I'm studying International Affairs with a concentration in International Development and I have a keen interest in Latin America. I'm studying in Quito after a semester in Buenos Aires and I hope to keep exploring the region as much as possible! I have passion for sustainability, service, languages, and the outdoors, but sometimes I still dream about being a chef. :)