My STEP project was completed during summer 2017, when I took part in study abroad program in Europe. Specifically, I took a seven-week trip to Europe, spending three weeks traveling between cities, and spending the remaining four weeks in Dresden, learning German at the Goethe Institut. Over the course of these seven weeks, I visited London, Paris, Bruges, Amsterdam, Cologne, Dresden, Leipzig, Prague, and Berlin, and met so many wonderful people along the way.
Simply put, the trip was amazing, and perhaps almost perfect. I learned so much about myself, and met so many amazing individuals from around the world. However, it wasn’t always an easy endeavor. When I first arrived in London, I had no idea what to expect, and since I was mostly alone on this trip, I was extremely overwhelmed at times. It was a new experience, challenging to say the least, but I think I’ve gained a lot from it. By spending so much time by myself, meeting new people, organizing travel, and gaining experiences that only I know what they were really like, I’ve become more self-confident, and I feel as if I’m more comfortable being who I am and have a clear image of who I aspire to be.
The largest influence on my growth came from the various travelers and locals I met along the way, mostly because I could act like my true self with these new people, and I think this behavior occurred since I didn’t have a lot of time to spend with them, and I wanted to make the most with what I had. This directly led to genuine and even sometimes deep relationships being established at a fast pace, and I gained a lot from it. Although looking back, one person in particular made an incredibly meaningful impact on me, my aunt’s friend Johnny.
Now, Johnny is one amazing Londoner. He’s worked with Madonna, the Royal Family, Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga, and lots of other star-studded individuals. However, this isn’t the main reason why he made such an impact on me. He gave me the courage to tell my family that I’m gay. Johnny’s gay as well, and discussing his experience with coming out to family and friends, I learned about what life was really like as a gay man during the AIDS epidemic, and how societal prejudices negatively influenced his life. Hearing about his generation’s fight for equal rights, that’ve allowed me to be out and open in a more accepting world, really gave me a sense that I shouldn’t waste any more time not living as my true self, so I didn’t.
My German skills also vastly improved during my month in Germany, and contributed to my improved sense of self-confidence. By the end of the course, I could hold real conversations about such diverse topics with people who don’t speak English, allowing me to get to know people when I couldn’t have otherwise. I remember that right after finishing my final Goethe certificate exam, I was walking back to my apartment with my Russian exam partner, Mark, and our conversations felt so natural and so flowing; it was incredible, being able to communicate with others in a new language that feels comfortable to use. Knowing that I had achieved something of this caliber was unbelievable, and it completely solidified my belief that if you want something badly enough, and are willing to put in effort, you can attain it.
Learning to be more self-confident and to care for myself are probably the two greatest benefits to arise from my study abroad experience. I’m more emboldened now more than ever to continue to improve myself, to live a life as true to myself as possible, and to meet many more great people along the way. Going forward, I plan to use my improved ability with the German language to stay in contact with German friends, and to possibly be able to attend events and to intern at German companies in the future. I want to continue to plan new, exciting adventures in the future, to discover and learn what I, and the world around me, really have to offer.