Well, guys, I did it. I somehow managed to survive my Bulgarian adventure: 10 countries, 4 months, and an infinite amount of memories. I’ve been back in the states now for a little over a week, and that week has been nothing short of a whirlwind filled with head colds, Christmas, and everything in between. And now with New Year’s Eve looming in the near future, I can’t help but wonder just how many more people are going to ask me, “So how was your trip?”.
I want to say that this was so much more than a mere trip…this was an entire chapter in my life that has now come to a close. Honestly, I’m not even sure that I fully comprehend that I’m not going back to Blagoevgrad next semester, that instead I’m going to drive back down to Roanoke and go back to reality.
It’s been difficult readjusting to being in the states again, for sure. The amount of times I have had to catch myself as I’m about to say thank you in Bulgarian to people here is a daily struggle for me, and the fact that I can drive to a Target or Walmart and quite literally buy anything I could possibly need is still a bit mind blowing.
And just like that, tomorrow is already New Year’s Eve. I’m not exactly the resolution-making type of person, but this year I do have a resolution I would like to make. And that resolution is to live life exactly how I’ve been living it these past four months.
Now, I don’t want to be tacky or cliché, but I fear there’s no way around it right now. Studying abroad has not only changed me, but it has also changed how I view the world. I’ve learned a lot while I was out of the states, not only from the places I have been, but also from the people I have met. I’ve highlighted a few of my favorite things I’ve learned below.
1. Different can sometimes be scary, but different can also be good. I guess this one is pretty self explanatory. When my plane landed in Sofia, I didn’t know much about the country, I didn’t know how to say anything in the language, and I didn’t know anybody. I was alone. And even though four months later, I sat alone in the very same airport I had arrived in, I was far from being as alone as I felt upon my arrival. I knew much more about the country of Bulgaria, and I knew how to say some basics in the language (the quality is not important here, it’s all in the effort, trust me). And I definitely managed to meet a lot of interesting people and make loads of new friends.
2. It’s easy to take things for granted. Don’t. It’s super easy to take this planet we call home for granted, and to never really take the time to appreciate our surroundings. There is so much natural beauty around us, everywhere. I’ve come to realize that whether I am in Pennsylvania, or Virginia, or a mountainside in Southwest Bulgaria, the beauty is there, if I can only take a moment to see it.
3. Not everyone in the world is an assassin hired to kill you. It’s okay to talk to strangers and ask for help. This, this was a big one. At home, if someone asks you for help, you usually lock your car doors and pretend you can’t hear him. But there is no way I would have survived this semester if it weren’t for the occasional help from a stranger. Whether that person was simply writing down a street name and pointing us in the right direction, or helping us find the right desk to buy a bus ticket at, it is safe to say that many days were ultimately saved by people we didn’t even know.
4. Put. The. Phone. Away. I didn’t have an international plan while I was abroad, and I am so glad I didn’t. My phone only worked when I had internet access, which means (gasp!!) sometimes I actually had to look around at my surroundings and (double gasp!!) actually converse with people. I’ve come to realize that I am not a slave to technology, and that I am entirely capable of making friends on my own. And I don’t even need a phone to stare at when I’m bored or alone. There’s plenty more to life than constantly checking Facebook to see what Suzy had for dinner.
5. School is not the most important thing in life. Don’t get me wrong, doing homework and getting good grades will always be on the top of my priority list, but I’ve come to realize that there are other things up on the top of that priority list as well. Sometimes you need to take a break, laugh with friends, forget that you have research papers to write, and go to Brussels for a long weekend the week before finals begin. Okay, maybe that was a bad call. But do I regret all of those sleepless nights that ensued because of that long weekend trip? Absolutely not.
6. It’s okay (even encouraged) to not completely plan things out. Some of the best days are the ones that aren’t set in stone. One of my favorite trips I took this semester was the weekend trip to the city of Plovdiv in Bulgaria. I didn’t know anything about the city and didn’t have anything planned past taking the free walking tour. Not everything needs a schedule or a game plan. Sometimes you can just wing it.
Obviously there are other things I have learned, but these are a few of the bigs ones that have really impacted me. I was talking to a close friend of mine last night, expressing my fears that I was going to go back to school in two weeks, get bogged down with work, and go back to the way I was before this experience. But I don’t want this to happen, so my resolution for this coming year is to keep living my life with the same sense of enthusiasm and wonder as I have had these past few months. While my life undoubtedly won’t be quite as exciting (no weekend trips to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul or the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam…), there is absolutely no reason why I can’t put my phone away and appreciate the beauty of the Roanoke Valley of Virginia. Or take a road trip to see Eleanor in Tennessee. Or…you get the picture.
So, to my friends and family, thank you so much for your words of encouragement as I set out on this adventure. Thanks for looking at my pictures, reading my blog, and keeping in touch with me while I was gone. I’ve been fighting the urge to start every sentence of every conversation I’ve had over the past week with the phrase, “Well, this one time in Bulgaria…”, so if anyone reading this wants to get together for some coffee and trade traveling stories (or just listen to me talk…), I’m a thousand percent down with that. Just let me know!
I will wrap up this blog post with possibly the best piece of advice I have received post arrival in the states: “Let traveling change you. Don’t ignore what you have experienced and let things go back to normal just because that’s the easier thing to do.” And in this coming year, I am going to do just that.
And a bonus family picture! Because there truly is no place like home for the holidays (: