This past summer, I had the opportunity of a lifetime — to backpack through Europe. After studying abroad in London for four weeks, my two friends met me for a whirlwind trip through Dublin, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Paris. Each place I visited was a new adventure filled with incredible food, historic artifacts, and one-of-a-kind sights. This trip was so life-changing that it was sometimes hard to explain. Even though I arrived home with several souvenirs and pictures that didn’t do these beautiful places justice, the most important things I brought back with me weren’t tangible. They were the virtues I gained from all that I had experienced on the trip, good and bad, that I will keep with me throughout my life.
The moment I stepped out of the subway and onto the streets of Paris, I was awestruck by the beauty and antiquity of the buildings surrounding me. Stepping into a local French restaurant a few moments later was a different story. I was filled with discomfort as I helplessly depended on my French-speaking friends to order my food. (And that was a big deal considering my dream of enjoying chocolate croissants and French macarons was resting in their hands.) As little tasks like reading signs and talking to waiters became difficult, I was humbled by my inability to speak French. However, along with a sense of humility came a great desire to learn more about the language and culture of the people. My friends taught me some French phrases, I practiced my French accent, and a few times I even mustered up the courage to order those macarons on my own.
Even before my friends and I said goodbye to our families and boarded the plane, we placed our well-being in each other’s hands as we each planned out separate parts of the trip. While we were initially skeptical of how one friend booked a hostel called “Aloha Eiffel Tower,” we knew that she had done her research because we trusted her. Throughout our travels in Europe, our trust was cemented in our conversations with one another. We always talked through our plans to make sure that everyone felt comfortable and safe with what we were doing and where we were going. From trying escargot to getting a swing dance lesson from locals on the streets of Paris, we trusted each other every step of the way.
While abroad, I experienced a great amount of love from people back at home. I received texts and calls from family members and friends letting me know that they were thinking of me and praying for me. Each was a reminder of the ways in which I am deeply loved. I also experienced a great sense of love from those who I didn’t even know. While biking through Amsterdam, the three of us got a little too distracted by the beautiful canals and adorable little houses surrounding us to notice if we were headed in the right direction. As we pulled over our bikes on the side of the street, a local man showed his care for us by taking his time to direct us to the Van Gogh museum.
To our surprise, it was the frustrations and unexpected situations we experienced on our trip that brought us together more than anything. From getting a plate of less-than-delicious mystery meat at a restaurant in Paris to failing to sign up early enough to go on a particular canal tour in Amsterdam, the three of us often ran into stumbles on what we thought would be the “perfect trip.” But it was those moments when we were laughing about our mistakes that made our friendship grow stronger.
I met each moment of my trip with a sense of deep gratitude. I cherished the fact that over the course of two weeks I had the opportunity to visit Buckingham Palace, kiss the Blarney Stone, try decadent Belgian chocolates, visit the Anne Frank House, see a firework display off of the Eiffel Tower, and so much more. Going on this trip reminded me of all I have to be thankful for.