By Savannah Walker, For The Miami Student

They tell you that it is life changing.

Your peers who have set foot where you have not yet ventured warn you that you will never want to come back, and your family tells you how lucky you are. You smile, and you promise to call often.

Your friends beg for pictures, and plead that they will need updates so that they may live vicariously through you on the best adventure of your life so far. You laugh, and you promise.

Nowhere in those conversations does anyone talk about the nugget of anxiety — okay, let’s be realistic, the pit of anxiety and stress you feel when thinking about getting on that plane. No one really listens when you try to stutter that maybe, just perhaps, something will go wrong or the homesickness will be too great or that it won’t be an experience that is really “for you.” Your worries are brushed aside, your ticket scanned, and your flight departs.

And then you find yourself flying simultaneously away from the setting sun and towards the rising one, in one moment watching both the world that you left fall dark and the one you have not yet felt under your feet grow larger and brighter. You find yourself in a metal cylinder, thousands and thousands of miles in the air, hurtling through the pastel fog and shaking your head at the boy in front of you who is much too eager to finally order a beer.

You begin to talk to the girl from Estonia in the seat next to you as you eat your packaged dinner. She tells you a love story that has you craning your neck, looking around for Nicholas Sparks, as he should definitely be taking notes somewhere close by. You try to imagine hiking the Appalachian Trail, falling in love, having to leave at the expiration of your visa, and then later traveling across an ocean to see that person, that love, for the first time in months. And you fall short, because the world is so big that even the little corner of it you have left behind is too expansive to have been worn away under the soles of your own boots just yet.

And while the engines try desperately to chase the sun, sleep catches each figure in the dusk of the plane quietly, in cramped and warm discomfort. You fall restlessly into sleep, surrounded by so many different kinds of people, their dreams as cloudy to you as the sky above the ocean that you cannot see.

When the fluorescence of the airplane flickers on, it is still no match for the sunlight streaming in, peaking around the drawn shades and through those left open to the morning. And then, as your last day and your new day begin in overlap with each other, the flight staff serves breakfast over Ireland.

And let me just say that while you may know that the world exists outside of where you can see it yourself, it is a much different kind of wake-up call when you eat an omelet over Belfast when the farthest you have ever set your sights from home before is on the Caribbean Sea.

It takes the moment when the wheels touch down in Amsterdam before the fog lifts enough for you to even realize you are near the ground, let alone touching it, for you to realize that you aren’t in Kansas anymore — or Mississippi, or Texas, or Ohio, for that matter. The world is much bigger than just a plane ride, but a plane ride certainly makes the world feel much bigger.

In the next few days, you resist heavy eyelids and the strong inclination to nap on just about every surface. You learn to take the bus and the train, to say “Moien!” and “Addi!” to the world around you. You watch the green hills scattered with buildings that show a great desire for both the beauty of modernity and the tradition of the past. You learn that children, whether they babble in French, German, or Luxembourgish, laugh the same in every language.

You realize that the fear that you felt of crossing the ocean was doubt about whether or not you could conquer what lay on the other side.

And will you? Will this experience, or parts of it, be life changing? 

For you, the answer may be obvious; but for me and my shoes, we have miles yet to go and discoveries still to make on the long and wandering road.

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