Ashley Simmons is the Brand Coordinator at IES Abroad, IES Abroad Granada alum, and 2015-16 Blogger of the Year. While studying abroad in Spring 2016, Ashley fulfilled a childhood dream and became strongly rooted in her self-identity. Here, Ashley shares the furtherance of her journey with a focus on self-trust, empowering other students to study abroad and follow their dreams.
In one of the final classes I took when completing graduate school, my professor asked me a question that I will repeat to myself for my lifetime. That question came just as I scheduled a week-long solo trip to Maui, Hawaii, affirming my decision to celebrate myself and my birthday in the way I manifested. Her question to me was: What would your life look like if you put yourself in the center?
When my professor asked this, I was annoyed. While I had just booked my trip, I was sitting in the discomfort that someone who had only seen me through a computer screen could pick up on my wavering sense of self-trust. It was developing at the time, and in its development, I had been casually deflecting “doing the work” by “doing the work for other people”. I’m a caretaker at my core, and I love to encourage and motivate others to live their fullest lives. What I was learning at the time, a lesson that will repeat itself again and again, was how to do so for myself first and foremost, and why it was so important. I was learning how to trust myself and follow-through to see what could come on the other side.
Trusting myself has allowed me to navigate the world with a profound sense of self-awareness. While this knowledge of who I am has a strong foundation, it is not rooted. As I embrace each new journey, traveling not just from place to place but from self to self, I welcome growth and newness. I welcome the art and creation of each moment.
Navigating the streets of Honokowai and Lahaina, sparking conversations with locals, I felt realigned with the girl-to-woman I saw in the mirror when I studied abroad with IES Abroad Granada in the spring of 2016.
As I laid in my bed my first night on the island, I realized I needed the courage of my 20-year-old self to be courageous at 25, and to welcome 26 with the sunset—the end of one thing and the beginning of another. Studying abroad then helped affirm me, five years later, that yes, I can do this.
The night before I left for Granada, I laid on my mother, crying to her about my fears and anxieties. She reassured me at 20 as she always has: You will be fine. This time around, for a longer flight and an almost extra 1,000+ miles from home, I was able to be my own reassurance. It came to me like a mantra: Trust yourself, be smart, have fun. You are divinely protected and divinely guided.
I went ziplining during my trip and was safely encouraged by my guide on one of the 8-line routes to simply trust myself and trust fall backwards off the platform, eyes closed, and sit back snuggly in my harness with my arms outstretched as I zipped across to the other side at 40mph. His tip here was to not open your eyes halfway because it would make the trip from one side to the next feel longer and more enjoyable. I followed his instructions and we talked after, pondering why the journey felt so different with your eyes closed. He offered, “When you have your eyes open, you’re anticipating the brakes,” and my poet self went wild. There’s truth in this, though, and I know I have found myself wincing at the ends of things in life, anticipating their abrupt halt, instead of solely enjoying the adventure.
Here, I have been able to live fully in the present moment, no anticipation in mind, relishing in the trust fall.
Trusting myself and my gut instinct while traveling solo also helped me make smart decisions. I never traveled with all of my cash on hand, didn’t stay out too late (especially not when it was pitch black after the sun went down), didn’t go to certain areas, and was cautious when returning to my home for the week.
It was difficult to remain incognito as the only Black woman in so many spaces—literally a Black woman and I had a conversation about this upon spotting each other *insert Spiderman pointing meme*, but we laughed at this, joyous in our respective self-celebration in a world that doesn’t always uplift Black lives. Still, I encouraged conversations with a general sense of caution but maintained my welcome and Aloha spirit.
However, I will say, don’t be afraid to generalize or withhold your personal information while you’re traveling. People—actual strangers—don’t have to know where you’re staying, what room, where you’re traveling to/from, what day you’re leaving, or who you’re with. If you want to, keep it simple with, “I’m staying North of the island, how about you? / I’m traveling from the East Coast. / I’m with family/friends.” It helped me to have someone very clearly on the phone with me at times, location sharing on always for safety purposes, and to keep them updated too.
An important caveat! There is nothing wrong with having conversations with people and fully embracing the human experience that comes with travel. We are primed for connection with others and it can be a beautiful thing. You just don’t have to reveal the contents of your passports to pass the time. You can still hold wonderful, inspiring, and life-changing conversations while exercising caution.
Trusting myself has allowed me to create and live a life where I don’t feel I am escaping from one place to be comforted by the next, but am just traveling and embracing the abundance of every moment. I did not leave Hawaii to return to a life I hated—that came from trusting myself to do the work and create it. I returned to a life of love and adventure, full of inevitable challenges that would make it all worthwhile and help tell a great story.
I’ll leave you with the challenge now, that wherever you are in your journey, whether you’re preparing to study abroad next semester, are already in your host country, are a veteran traveler, or are simply traveling to a new version of yourself in life: Do it with a trust fall. Put yourself in the center. Create the day to create yourself. Welcome what comes day by day with the sunrise and the sunset. You will be amazed at what you discover.
If you're still considering your decision to study abroad, here's an amazing open letter written to you from one of our Fall 2021 IES Abroad Milan students to give you the push you need.
Ready to take a chance on your own experience? Look at programs or apply to study abroad with IES Abroad.