As I sit here getting my myself mentally geared up for a 9-month long adventure, I can’t help imagining who the Louisa leaving London next June will be, and what she will have smelled, heard, and visited. I can look back on some very fortunate 20 years that have seen the lands and seas of the six inhabited continents and many exciting experiences around the world. Being from a mixed-race family of cross-continental backgrounds, I was taught the value of foreign cultures and travel experience fr
My parents prioritized travel in our upbringing and took my sister and I through Southeast Asia every chance they got. As ten-year-old me dawdled through Buddhist temples and devoured bowl after bowl of Nasi Dagang, I realized how beautifully different humanity was from country to country. Each metropolis hosted its own unique cacophony; tires and children in Bangkok shrieked at a slightly different pitch than those in Jakarta. The jungles of each tropical paradise exuded a different perfume and emitted a different green hue. From these early travels, I knew I wanted to see the world. I wanted to educate myself on the cultures, languages, and food of people across the globe. I wanted to hike mountains from Hawaii to Colombia, and see the seven wonders. During the days, I dreamt of interminable train rides to everywhere and nowhere. During the nights, my dreams were illuminated by the dazzle of city lights and impregnated with the aromas of untasted spices and whispers of unheard languages.
Without my even realizing it, I had also prioritized travel. I took every opportunity available to do language immersion programs and service-oriented work in foreign countries, and eventually began to travel on my own. In looking at my coming academic year in the bustling, 8.5-million strong capital of Europe, I cannot wait for the personal transformation that has come to define every solo adventure.
From my first significant experience alone at a summer Spanish program in Salamanca at 16 to just this past summer working in Managua at 20, I have realized that every period spent living abroad alone has pushed me to learn more about myself, to be more comfortable with discomfort, and to always be open to new faces and experiences. I learned that there is no loneliness like that of being in a foreign country with neither friends nor family, kept home past sundown by poverty and sexism. In the nights I spent reading, cooking, and killing time in Nicaragua, I also learned the privilege and freedom of womanhood in a developed country.
But in the many disagreeable and potentially-dangerous situations on the road, I also learned to stand up for myself and pick which fights were worth fighting. This coming year abroad offers me nine months of solo adventure and, I’m sure, many more lessons about the universe within my mind and the universe without. It is deliciously exciting to have that little travel-butterfly flapping around my stomach again, and the nervous anticipation that heralds every trip is almost a welcome respite from the comfort and luxury of the familiar. I eagerly await the start of this next big journey.