I have two full suitcases on the floor of my room next to the blank white walls, my paintings are torn down laying on the floor, and two trash bags are waiting to be taken out when I leave on Friday. My semester in Ireland is ending, and as I reflect upon this trip, I realize that it has given me more than I could have possibly imagined before stepping foot onto Irish soil. This trip was a deeply spiritual, soul-searching experience. There were parts of it I was prepared for, and parts that no one can be prepared for. There were the experiences people brag about, and then there are the deeply painful moments no one repeats, so as not to spoil your idea of the expected fantastical experience. It is hard to capture the whiplash I experienced through an ever-changing worldview, however, I have come to believe that this kaleidoscope journey is necessary not once, but frequently throughout a lifetime.
I thought I was prepared for the aloneness, and I was… mostly. I am very loud, open, authentic, and far too talkative which often leads to easily made friends. Initially, though, this was difficult for me. I felt robbed of my usual characteristics in the vulnerability of navigating a new country. I was welcomed with a slap in the face that stung with unfamiliarity in this foreign land. I liked it at first. It was fun to be shaken up and shown something new. However, it was easy to get lost, I didn’t know anyone, and I was rendered very small by this big world. When I got to school I found a group of friends, one of whom I stuck very close to. Her energy matched mine and I felt like that was all I needed, though I often still found myself alone which was often tough and anxiety provoking. When I was traveling though, this solitude was both energizing and enlightening.
My first solo trip was in Austria and Germany. I went to Salzburg and Munich. I navigated a night train speaking German through Munich to Salzburg, I saw a Mozart concert in a castle, and I climbed a mountain that looked, smelled, tasted a lot like the Rocky Mountains. I did yoga at the top in the packed down snow, and I felt peaceful. I was happy because I knew that this trip would not have been so simple and peaceful had I been with people. I was running my own schedule, doing things only I wanted to do. I was following what felt right and determining my own next move instead of letting life decide it for me. I traveled alone again in Italy for 9 days. I spent 4 of them in Rome which were extremely difficult, as the city itself, beautiful though it may be, is a bit skeevy. I never felt safe being a young, white, American woman alone in that city. This was proven to be a valid fear when I was groped on the bus on the way to the Vatican. I was on edge all through Italy, but I still managed to feel that euphoric experience you can only acknowledge within the silence and purity of internal dialogue. Italy, Austria, and Germany taught me that being with people is a bonus, but not a necessity. It taught me that there are challenges of being alone, but that there is nothing I will face that will stop my life from moving forward. And mostly, it taught me that my own company is pretty exhilarating!
This was also the first time I lived in an apartment by myself. “Adulting,” as they say. I once ran out of toilet paper…while I was on the toilet. I now hoard toilet paper. More seriously, this growth period evolved throughout the semester and each day I saw myself with more clarity and depth than ever. I was forced to confront obstacles within myself, to face repressed emotions, re-live memories, analyze my thoughts, and address my bad habits. Everything I hadn’t wanted to recognize, confront, and overcome, sat at the forefront of my mind and I realized that without my own internal stability, I wouldn’t survive this trip.For example, I had a tendency to adapt to the energies around me instead of maintaining my own positivity. When I am alone, I am forced to be in charge of my own mindset, which was both freeing and challenging. I have always had a pretty loud voice of self-doubt within me. It causes a large disparity between what I want to do and what I actually do, because there is a very self-destructive voice talking me out of success. I also have an anxious habit of picking at my skin. Literally peeling skin off of my face wherever there is a blemish. I found that when I was alone and anxious, I wasn’t only destroying my inner beauty, but also my outer beauty as well. So, I practiced everyday to make peace with that voice and those parts of myself that were challenging for me to accept, made me feel weak, or that caused me pain. Not just “coexisting” with them, but accepting and loving them, loving me. I was eventually able to recognize that voice, but not let it effect how I live. To replace it with more strengthening thoughts. I learned to treat myself better. To remind myself what a queen I am, and why I have all the tools to succeed. I was able to reign in my own mindset, maintain joy and happiness and positive energy throughout my travels. This heightened self-awareness not only brought me exuberant levels of joy and confidence, but this hyper awareness also permeated into my external experiences.
Confronted with the “entirety of my soul”, as I began to see it, I initially felt that I was walking around with my chest torn open. It was scary, challenging and deeply unfamiliar to be so vulnerable with only strangers around me. Pretty soon I came to realize that it was only me who was feeling the discomfort. Everyone else received the most authentic version of myself, which they loved and appreciated. For the first time, I found confidence in what my heart felt and had the courage to follow it.
Things naturally became challenging when I began to feel torn between two worlds. I have a serious boyfriend back home and a family that I am very close with. It became difficult to exist in this technological limbo, always searching for wifi so I could maintain contact to a far away world but still thrive in mine. Not to mention I was searching for a summer job and a place to live in the US while living in Ireland. I had never been more stressed or doubtful of what my future held than that month. I didn’t know what I was going to do until luck struck, and out of the blue my boyfriend and I both got hired at the same company and everything else fell into place.
I relaxed when I realized that I was in a natural growth period, and I had just forced myself through a lot of personal evolution in a short time span. I am better for it. I also realized that this is not the only natural growth period that I will work through. They come around again in our lives when we need to expand our horizons, they hurt, they are hard, and I will always want to resist. I felt like I was letting go of my former self and was reluctant to do so. Then I came to realize that my former-self didn’t have the mindset to navigate Ireland with full force. So, I adapted, because I had to. A journey like this should come frequently in a person’s life. You don’t know that it is time to evolve until you have to, open up to the experience of creating an elevated you.
I look back at my Irish apartment, empty as the day I moved in, but full of new moments and memories I made here. My relationship with this planet has grown stronger in the past 5 months, astonishingly strong. I lived in Ireland on my own, I traveled and hiked around all of it, and I was blessed enough to take a 9-day solo trip to Italy, where my limits were pushed every day. I did yoga on top of the Swiss Alps. These places and the people in them saw right through me, and let me open my heart so that I could spend the last six months blossoming into a more beautiful, more joyous, and more confident version of myself. I will be grateful for that every day, and I cannot wait for my next journey of self-discovery. With these thoughts weaving through my mind, I shut the door on this home and continue onward to the next one.
My final thoughts and encouragements: Push yourself, strive to find new spaces and push limits, try new things (big and small) and get scared. Feel small. Feel things you don’t want to feel, and eventually fall in love with them. Never stop seeking internal discovery and external adventures.