I used to think that the sky only stretched on for as far as I could see, and then where my vision became blurred, the world ceased to exist. I used to think that happiness came from surrounding yourself by things that brought you comfort. I used to think the best friends I would ever have, were the ones I’d known forever. I used to think that in order to call someone family meant they had to be related by blood. And I used to think that home, only had one name.
But that was before. Before I packed my faith in a suitcase, and my fear in a carry-on, and boarded a plane with no known destination. You see, people had told me time and time again, that my year abroad would be the best one of my life. That it would change the way I saw everything. “Even 30 years from now”, they told me, “You will look back and realize nothing in your life will ever be as much fun”. I don’t know about that. Yes, my year abroad has been the best year of my life and yes, my year abroad has changed everything for me. But as for me looking back at age 47 on my year, I hope that I will see my exchange as the year that started a lifetime of adventure. You see before, had you of asked me what my future consisted of, I would have described it as “like a super cool senior year”, filled with football games and prom pictures. Then after that I would tell you I was headed to college at MU where I would major in something like business, because I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do.
But now, my future is more beautifully unknown than I had ever hoped. Every day my eyes open to something new, and every day I see opportunities by the hundreds, laid out right in front of me. I plan on pushing through my senior year with a job on the side, so I can start saving up to see the world. I want to travel and help people and do my very best to chase every dream that my year abroad has inspired. I want to learn every minute of every day about places and people and traditions that I would have never believed would really exist. I want to go to sleep every night, satisfied. Because when I look up at the night sky I don’t want stare blatantly at stars glittering in easy reach of my vision. Instead, I want to look past that, into the wild unknown.
You see, studying abroad here has really, in every way, shape and form, changed everything about the person I am. I no longer think solely of the objects and people and places surrounding me. Instead, my mind often wanders to far away lands where I am looking at things and meeting people unlike anyone or anything I’ve ever seen. I don’t fear change anymore, and I don’t fear the disruption change often inspires. Instead every day, I wonder what little things I could change in hopes of the disruption it might bring. Before I left, I looked at the world as if it owed something to me. Like I was its gift and I was to be treated as one.
But now I look back and see how horribly selfish that was. I am no longer the receiver, but the giver. The world owes me nothing, but I, I owe it everything. Its beauty and life amazes me every minute of the day; every day of the week; every week of the year. I’ve only been abroad for eight months and fourteen days, but I feel I’ve lived a lifetime. Sometimes I’m afraid to go home. Afraid all the fun and adventure of this year will fly back with the plane. But then I remind myself, that I am not the same person as when I left. Because now I know that the sky stretches on for thousands of miles in every direction, even where I cease to see it. I know that happiness does come from things that bring you comfort, but that comfort is offered in more ways than one. I know the best friends I’ll ever had may very well be the ones I haven’t met yet, and that family can mean more than similar genetic material.
And as for home, I know now that it hasn’t just one name. Home has many. Home is where the heart is. And for me, everywhere I go, I fall in love. One day, 70 years from now, I want to go with no piece of my heart left with me. Because for every place I went, I left a little of it there. Scattered around the world, my heart will continue to beat. One time for every star in plain sight, and twice for every star hidden in the never ending night sky.