I found meaning in my life as I was standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower, looking out on the Seine River in Paris. I thought to myself, “This is my life. I am eighteen and I am in Paris. I am here and in this moment and it is perfect.”
I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t a nervous wreck every time I told someone what my plans were for my first semester. I had never left home for more than two weeks and even so, I was only five hours away and still in New York. I would be lying to you if I said I was comfortable with the idea of living with a family that potentially spoke no English while I spoke no Italian. However, I would also be lying to you if I told you that my first semester of college living in Florence, Italy wasn’t the best three and a half months of my life.
Going abroad when you’re eighteen is like being a kid on Christmas morning; it is that exciting. Everything you can’t do at home, you can do abroad. There are no parents and there is no real drinking age. There is no one to tell you that something is off limits or that maybe you should spend your money more wisely. You are really on your own. It can be scary, but it’s a good type of scary. You will miss your flight. You will get lost in a country that speaks a language different than yours. You will eat something that makes you want to vomit. You will get too drunk and make a fool of yourself in the middle of Florence. It all happens when you go abroad. But most importantly, you will become a human being, and you will show compassion for the world and for yourself.
You will never be able to grow up unless you suck it up and leave home. I mean REALLY leave home. Fly across the country and go to school. Fly across the ocean and go to school, for crying out loud. If it were not for my semester in Italy, I would not be half of the person that I am right now. And I mean that. I really do. The thing they don’t tell you when you’re picking out a college is that it’s okay to leave home. You will surprise your parents when you return. Perhaps they won’t recognize you because you wear all black and you speak another language but I can tell you that it’s probably because you have a new perspective on the beautiful world that we live in and you want to share it with everyone. And you should.
When you go abroad, your whole world changes. You see things that you only ever dreamed of laying your eyes on. You taste some of the most incredible food in the world. You make the greatest friends you will ever have in your life. You share all of these moments with people who went abroad with you and no one else will be able to understand. Months later, after you’ve taken the eight-hour flight back to JFK International Airport, you’ll laugh and say to your friend, “Remember that time we walked on the highway in Rome to get to the airport?” and they will laugh too because they are the only other person in the world who shared that experience with you at age eighteen.
If you have the chance to get on a plane and go somewhere, do it. You will never regret it. I promise you.