I’m from a small—albeit growing—town in Washington state. Not only is my entire family spanning generations from here, but so is my tribe. The Cowlitz Indians have resided in Washington since the literal beginning of time. In most ways, that makes me really lucky. My culture is a huge part of my life, and I don’t know if it would have been if I grew up anywhere else. I feel a connection to our land, and the thought of leaving it—and my family—has always terrified me.
But I also want to leave.
I’ve always felt the pull to travel and explore, but being a family-oriented introvert made that really hard for a while. I went to college a three-hour drive away and even that was difficult—but I got through it. I took a class that brought me to Ireland for two weeks—and it was thrilling. Then it was time to take the next step: study abroad for a semester.
On January 9, 2017, I hopped on a non-stop flight to London, England, and it was the best thing I ever did. (As much as I hate cliches, I am the living embodiment of the phrase study abroad will change your life!) I needed an experience like this to get me out of my comfort zone and finally find out what I knew I was missing. I could go on forever about all the ways moving to London changed me—for starters, I’m more confident, more open-minded, and more independent. I even became an AIFS Alumni Ambassador to help other students study abroad.
Most importantly, though, studying abroad gave me the courage to make the permanent move I’ve been dreaming about since I was little.
In August, two months after I graduate college, I’m moving across the country. If you told me that three years ago, I might have thought you were talking about the wrong person. Don’t get me wrong: I always knew I would move to the East Coast, but that felt very far-off, like something I would do later in life. But when is later? When I went to London, it made me realize how short life really is (last cliche, I promise). I was only 20, but once I saw all traveling had to offer, I felt like I had gotten a late start.
I’m not saying it was easy. I was really homesick. I’ve always had a hard time putting myself out there. There were days that I just wanted to stay in my flat, but when I did, I felt like I wasn’t taking advantage of the opportunity. I know I’ll feel the same way when I move in a couple of months. But that’s how you grow! I was forced to do things that challenged me, and I will continue to do those things for the rest of my life. It took me until recently, but I know now that being uncomfortable can be a good thing.
I don’t hate my hometown. I don’t want to leave and never come back. There’s just so much of the world that I want to see, so much that I want to do, that can’t be contained to the Pacific Northwest, as beautiful as it is. But I wouldn’t know that if I didn’t study abroad.