Over the past 6 months I have been attempting to put my passionate feelings into words that even begin to describe the adventure of a lifetime that took place in Budapest, Hungary this past summer. I’ve not wanted to accept that my STEP signature experience is over, but I have realized that one adventure must end before another can begin. One year ago, I began my STEP proposal by quoting John Green saying, “I am in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met”. As I reflect on this experience, I feel a pang in my heart as my soul has been touched by the places I’ve visited and the people I’ve met. I began this journey quoting the words of other travelers; now I am telling my own story.
My STEP Signature Project enabled me to set out on an adventure I had only dreamed of before. I participated in the 2015 Global May Hungary Program. This allowed me to live in Budapest for 4 weeks and challenged me to delve into an entirely new culture. Coursework included learning the history, culture, political views, economic conditions, and unique language of Hungary. Touring the city, learning innovative ways to utilize green spaces, studying the importance of famous monuments, meeting with political representatives, and reflecting on museum exhibitions were just a few ways we covered the course material. Our final project consisted of a video presentation of a prevalent topic of choice unique to Hungarian culture. I took this opportunity and ran with it as my group studied the progression of café culture within Budapest as well as central Europe. The Global May Hungary program also led us to Warsaw, Poland as well as Vienna, Austria to compare the history and culture of other major European cities.
I began this journey as ignorant as could be. While I knew I had never seen the world, I had not realized that I had not been living life to the fullest. My perspective shifted with each step that I took and I found more compassion in my heart with every person that I met. I did not know that I was capable of accomplishing the things that I did within these 4 short weeks that I lived in Budapest. My main goal of this experience was to transform into a traveler. At one point, this seemed unrealistic due to my utter lack of travel experience. I had never even been on an airplane before casually flying overseas. While writing my STEP proposal last year I was sure to include my personal philosophy of what a traveler ought to be. I came up with this: “A traveler is someone ambitious enough to capture the serenity of new places while welcoming the new culture to become a part of them. A traveler leaves nothing behind; only gains knowledge, acceptance, and perspective from new places. Less comparably, a tourist is one who may look at the world, but will never see it for what it truly is. Tourists travel merely for their own personal pleasure, while travelers seek to become a part of something larger than them.” As I copied these words onto paper I deeply felt that this was true. Something was driving me to become a well-seasoned traveler; I just wasn’t sure how I would achieve this.
Not only did I accomplish this, but I have also unleashed a new passion in life. I have discovered the priceless beauty of engaging as a global citizen. Our professor whom led us on this trip, Dr. Daniel Pratt, warned us that we would begin to attract the company of others whom have spent a significant amount of time abroad. I have found this to be incredibly true. Sine returning from Budapest, I have met people from all around the globe and it seems that they pick me out of a crowd. Whether I am at school, work, or simply out in public, I find it difficult to avoid travelers whom have great stories to tell. I feel that these people feel comfortable around me because of the new confidence and energy that I have gained from my STEP signature project.
Many do not understand how it is that I felt more understood than ever before in a country that did not speak my language nor practice my culture. The moment I arrived in Budapest, I felt welcomed by this new place; I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging. I quickly learned that this infinite feeling of bliss is what home feels like. My home is no longer a place. Home is where my heart is full, my mind is challenged, and my soul is happy. I’ve found the place that wakes my mind up and fills my heart with happiness. Finding this place has bought my new passion for traveling to light. This experience allowed me to openly challenge all I have ever known. Boarding my first ever flight to pursue my dreams of traveling the world was one of the greatest feelings I have ever experienced and I will never stop chasing adventure that provides me with this much energy and happiness. Being exposed to a new culture, a new language, a new currency, and a new lifestyle provided me with endless opportunities to learn. I had the amazing opportunity to take on Budapest and experience new things each and every day I was here. Being on the other side of the world, I had no choice but to adjust to my surroundings. I noticed how my personal values began to shift with each week I was here. I no longer depended on technology to stay connected, I began to trust my sense of direction more, and I realized the importance of creating unforgettable memories with 25 new friends whom I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. I have gained a new appreciation for central Europe as a whole and cannot wait to explore more of Europe in the future. I have also begun to view America differently and have thus reevaluated our Country’s values. Most importantly, I have discovered the significance of traveling with purpose. I returned back to The United States as a more curious, intellectually stimulated, passionate, inspired, and determined individual who will never stop searching for the infinite feeling of bliss that I now call home.
No amount of coursework could ever exceed the amount of knowledge I gained from living like a local in a foreign country. Simply taking the right bus route to get to class, practicing effective communication, discovering new territories, and interacting with locals provided me with experience in all areas of productivity. Engaging in the world has a whole new meaning to me after investing so much of my time, energy, and passion into Budapest. This opportunity has genuinely increased my global literacy skills. Prior to this experience, my personal and professional expectations were limited. I now know how important it is to see the world and face new challenges. Throughout the course of this program, I became more susceptible to change. I quickly learned that the benefits you gain from pushing your limits and trying new things is an incredibly rewarding process. I have since decided that I want to travel with a deeper purpose. I want to leave my fingerprints around the world as I help those less fortunate than myself. I want to understand economic differences between thriving countries and underdeveloped nations so that I can better appreciate where I am from. Now that I have experienced traveling abroad, I know I must continue this leisure pursuit. I will continue to explore Honduras and Peru this coming summer and I cannot wait to explore new land, meet new people, and understand new cultures. I have also begun seeking future employers with international opportunities and am even considering international graduate school programs. I have also added serving in the Peace Corps for two years to my bucket list. Choosing to no longer be restricted by borders has opened up so many possibilities for my future and I cannot wait to see where I will end up. I am eternally grateful for the resources I am provided with, the people I have met, and the memories I have made along the way. Köszönöm, Budapest, for helping me find my new home.
Here is my group’s multimedia project about Café Culture