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Ready, Set, Don’t Go

Ready, Set, Don’t Go

Growing up in a family where a family road trip every summer was the norm and a “vacation” day or two, crammed with activities from museums to presidential libraries, was added to any out of town baseball game, tennis tournament, dance competition or college visit, I guess you could say the travel bug bit me early.

I am so grateful for those early years of travel, and all the unforgettable moments they provided. Learning about different regions of my own country has equipped me with an open mind and passion for learning about cultural differences that makes traveling outside of the States that much more rewarding.

Since my first trip abroad in 2010 and my departure for this journey, I traveled to 13 countries on 4 different continents, over half of which were exclusively for educational purposes. All of these experiences left me wanting more. More time, more immersion, more growth.

In fact, I had planned to spend my sophomore year doing the full year program at Loyola’s John Felice Rome Center in Rome, Italy. I adjusted my course schedule, applied, was accepted, and then something, I’m not quite sure what, told me not to go. Thankfully, I listened.

On my first day of classes, and what would have been the start of my second week abroad, my father had a severe stroke and lost his speech and mobility of his right side. Over the next 10 months he fought – first to recover, and then Stage IV Lung Cancer before passing away in June 2014. Within those 10 months, I also lost 2 dear friends, a close teacher and my grandfather.

All of this eventually took a huge toll, causing me to lose my passion for travel, and for learning. I became afraid of anything that might upset the status quo. After a year and a half of going through the motions, it was time for a change – a drastic change – to get me back on track personally and academically. That’s when I decided I needed to do something that had always brought me joy, something that always challenged me, and something that I had grown to love during long family road trips and my previous time abroad.

I decided first on Vietnam, but I quickly learned about other programs that peaked my interest, and was determined to fit in as much as possible in the time it would take me to finish my degree.

By October 1st of last year, I had already applied to Fall 2016 in Vietnam, as well as two summer Faculty-led programs Loyola was offering – China Green and Seoul, Korea. My mind was set – I would be going abroad for over half a year, traveling, alone if need be, in between programs to further my understanding of Asia.

In January, on my 22nd birthday, I was accepted to all 3 programs (one of the best birthday presents I have ever received!) and there was no turning back. I became obsessed with traveling as much as I could in the years to come.

There were two major issues:

1. Loyola has a two semester study abroad policy.

2. My plan would not fit into the traditional “4-year plan” seen as how I was technically finishing my 4th year already.

I memorized the courses offered, the opportunities provided and the classes I still needed to complete. After some highly organized planning that may or may not have fried my brain, I had devised a plan that would allow me to finish my degree abroad… and add two minors…

Fall 2016 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Spring 2017 Uppsala, Sweden
Full Year 2017-2018 Rome, Italy

I appealed to study abroad for 4 semesters, attaching the detailed academic plan I had laid out for myself, along with a 10 page letter explaining why these programs and this timing was the best way for me to complete my degree. With the support of my family, my advisor and the study abroad office, my appeal was accepted.

Even with two years of new places, new friendships and new foods to look forward to, planning to study abroad proved to be a stressful, painstaking process, especially having close family and friends I would be leaving behind. The eight months I had to plan my trip were not enough time to prepare myself for what was to come. I had my doubts almost every week, but I knew how much pushing through would benefit me.

I have been traveling for three months now and it still isn’t always easy to be gone. I am writing this while sunbathing on a boat in the Gulf of Thailand, the sea breeze blowing through my hair and mountainous islands all around. I am surrounded by beauty, but I miss home more than ever.

In a few weeks, it will be the first Bears game of the regular season, which I attend every year with my Aunt and Uncle and haven’t missed in over a decade. Last week, there were bombings throughout Thailand. Knowing my family will now be increasingly concerned with my safety makes me long for home even more.

Though I know it would bring me all the joy in the world to be sitting at home eating some of my brother’s mouthwatering dishes using vegetables from our garden, I couldn’t be more happy with my decision to study abroad at this point in my life. I know that with every passing day I am growing more confident in myself, more aware of other cultures, and more prepared for what the rest of my journey holds.

In just 10 days I arrive in Ho Chi Minh City to begin the next leg of my journey. I will meet new people, try new foods, learn (as much as I can) a new language, and continue to develop myself personally, academically, and professionally. I am not quite sure what to expect, but I am excited to see what the next four months will bring.

This time, I am ready.

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