Over the past year, I have come to realize that the biggest risks in life are the only ones worth taking. Often time’s individuals may feel that taking the safe route is the optimal option. However, I have learned that those large leaps of faith in life are the ones that ultimately shape our character and prove to be most worthwhile.
Last March, I took the biggest leap of all when I signed up for a summer study abroad program. Despite the fact that I knew no one going on the program, I went off on a whim and decided to spend my summer in Florence, Italy. In one respect, my reasoning behind my decision was that I could not fathom spending a whole summer back home. Even though my hometown holds a special place in my heart, I knew there was more to life and that I needed to get out into the world and experience life on my own. So with two semesters of Italian under my belt and the luggage limit fulfilled, I headed to Europe.
Part of the reason I felt that the decision to go was so risky was the fact that despite my outer appearance, I was terrified of the unthinkable. I feared that fact that I was living in a foreign country, somewhat on my own for the first time. Furthermore, I was being placed to live with an Italian family, who most likely spoke very little English. Little did I know that my fears would be put to rest upon arrival in Florence, just a short 24 hours after departing home.
Everything I feared about going abroad turned out to have little validity when I actually arrived there. Living with an Italian family proved to be a challenge in itself. Learning the social customs and standards of another culture can always be difficult at first. However, over time I learned to adapt to the ways of a true Italian family. I immersed myself in the language and spoke as much as I could around the city and as well as during nightly family dinners. Instead of being afraid of failure in areas of acculturation, I left my inhibitions behind and did my best to acclimate to my new life.
The fear of not knowing anyone on the abroad program soon subsided when I met an amazing group of individuals. We had the opportunity to share a once in a lifetime experience together and immerse ourselves in a foreign culture. In some ways, going abroad was like opening Pandora’s Box for myself. I discovered aspects of my personality that would usually go unnoticed while living back home in the United States. I learned that I was fully capable of living life on my own and not only surviving, but thriving, in a different culture.
About half way through the seven week program, I literally took a leap. On a last minute decision to go to Switzerland for the weekend, my friend and I hopped the overnight train to Interlaken to go canyoning. Upon arrival, we joined a group at an extreme sporting company, who led us up to the top of a series of canyons. However, the method of getting down was far from walking. Instead it included rappelling and a precise series of jumps. Despite the jitters in my stomach and the possibility of injury, I moved forward, seeking an adrenaline rush. Inadvertently it led to me doing a flip of a 30 foot canyon into water below. In the end the rush and the memories I formed that day greatly outweighed the risk I decided to take. It was that moment that I realized that the most joyous moments in life are those that stem from taking risks.
When I look back upon my experience abroad I find it hard to believe that I was so incredibly nervous before departing. I wish I had known that I was in for the greatest experience of a lifetime and on the verge of discovering one of life’s most important lessons. After this experience, I have learned what I value the most in life and have a clearer understanding of what I want out of my future. Now, life is more than just the day to day safety of routine; instead it is about taking those leaps and bounds that ultimately led me to the discovery of myself.