Those “Yes, I did this without your help!” travel moments

Often in life, we (or at least occasionally I) want the easy way to do something (although we might not always realize it’s the easy path). However, we often forget about the journeys that come alongside with having to do something the longer way.

Example. In high school and as an undergraduate, I really wanted to go to Spain. Spanish was my favorite language (partly because of my favorite teacher in high school) and was my primary focus. When I graduated from high school, I thought I might go to college to become a translator, with Spanish being my main secondary language, or become a Spanish teacher (a bit lower on my preferred list of jobs).

Everything with this plan went smoothly the first year and a half at college. I was doing well in Spanish and I was on the path to study abroad there in spring of my sophomore year. Halfway through the fall of my sophomore year, the Spanish department was a bit concerned I wasn’t prepared enough. They told myself, along with a handful of other students, that they would prefer us to go abroad in fall of our junior year – in order to have more practice with the language, as all of our courses in Spain would be in Spanish. I was fine with this so again, the plan got moved back slightly but still was on track.

Then, halfway through my spring semester of my sophomore year, the Spanish department, decided to decline students from the Spain study abroad list and Spanish major/minor list that it felt were not excelling as great as they should be. (Without going into a long tirade, I want to point out that when this decision was made, I was still passing, constantly improving my language, and could still very easily read, write, and speak the Spanish language.)

I then went about trying to figure out what my future would include – as not only did my minor change, but so did my future career goals and my study abroad opportunity. In a matter of weeks, I made some big decisions – that okay, maybe they can be viewed as minor in the larger sense of things, but they seemed the biggest hurdle I had yet faced in college.

After weighing various pros and cons of various study abroad programs, I had whittled my study abroad location down to two by the end of spring 2009: Morocco and South Africa. Both had the opportunity to give me something different from what I experienced on a daily scale at my small, private, liberal arts, all female university. I ended up choosing South Africa – and as some of my previous posts and comments have said, it was the best decision that I had made as an undergraduate. However, I will admit something.

A part of the reason (minor but still notable) why I kept considering Morocco was because of its closeness to Spain. I had heard from girls who had studied abroad on the Spain program that they would take excursions to the tip of Gibraltar and wave at Morocco. I thought, well – if they can travel to Morocco during their breaks – why can’t I travel to Spain on my break?

I sorely wanted to be able to stand in Spain, speak the language, be assertive, and yell at the top of my lungs (although in Spanish) – “Yes, I did this without your help!” (This would be directed towards my undergraduate school.) I will admit, I still really want to do that. It hasn’t happened yet, but when I make it to Spain – and yes, someday I will – I am sure I will do something like that.

However, not going to Spain has led me on a journey I couldn’t even imagine.

I studied abroad in South Africa and made amazing memories and met some truly magnificent people. (The photo at right shows me proud, during spring of my senior year, of the location I had chosen – and its distance from my undergraduate school.) The semester in South Africa made me a viable candidate for the Graduate Assistant position at William Penn University – where the primary project of my first year was to create a trip for WPU students to Rwanda and Tanzania. The trip occurred within six months of my start date at William Penn University – and I got to go on the trip, adding two more countries to my “traveled” list. I can only imagine what else the “not going to Spain as an undergraduate” path has in store for me – although, maybe it’s better not to imagine and just enjoy the drive.

Through all of this reflection, I am curious to learn what other unexpected and life-altering pathways people have been on. And especially what they did in those travel moments where they could prove someone wrong – with being able to thrive while abroad or speaking in another language being such examples of “Yes, I did this without your help!” moments. What about you, reader? How have you embraced – or denied – change in your travel and life plans?