The Great Unknown

I remember it like it was yesterday. The day I packed up nearly 22 years of stuff into my Jeep. I sat at the kitchen table, chomping on the last bits of breakfast, looking over the 12 hour route from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Minneapolis, Minnesota, one last time. I hugged my parents goodbye. We exchanged both sappy and practical words.  “I love you. Call me when you get there. I am so proud of you. Stop for gas before you get to a quarter of a tank.”  We were stalling to avoid the inevitable. As I pulled out of the driveway, I honked my horn as my final goodbye. Smiling and slightly tearing up, I drove off without looking back.

This was it. This was the moment when I was leaving home to pursue my dreams. I had left before. When I was 16, I moved across the country from Detroit to Tulsa. I left for college two years later. A few years later, I left again for a internship in New York. This time I was leaving for a magazine position in Minneapolis. I knew only one person there. I knew little about the city, the weather or the people. I was nervous about going somewhere where I didn’t know much. I was anxious about being “the new girl” yet again.

I was afraid. So what do I do when I get nervous? I turn up my music LOUD. Just by chance, this little tune sang through the corridor of my car: “If you never leave home, never let go, you’ll never make it to the great unknown. ’til you keep your eyes open my love.” I had heard this song before, but never had it resonated more true until that moment. Quickly my fears were pacified. I still felt the butterflies, but the joy of the adventure was too big to pass up. So I cranked up my music a little louder, hit the gas and headed out to the unknown with a big smile on my face.

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

“When you leave home, you miss family, friends and familiar places. It’s hard but you grow, and growth is the best part.”

The first time I was pushed out of my comfort zone was when my parents decided to move my family across the country while I was in the middle of high school. I hated their grand plan. I didn’t want to leave my friends, my family and the place I had always called home. What I didn’t realize at the time is that my parents were doing me the biggest favor. Moving at such a pivotal time, when you’re 16, a junior in high school and just finding your place, taught me that there’s a big world out there, a really, really big one! If you only stay where you’re comfortable and never experience it, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

It is in the uncomfortable that you gain perspective. It is in those times that you grow and get to know yourself. You become stronger. You learn to form your own opinions. You learn that there are all kinds of people out there, many of whom do not look, dress or think like you. You are humbled by people who may not be rich in tangible possessions but whose wealth lies in the wisdom and love they share with you.

While I have traveled to many states here in the U.S. and several provinces of Canada, I have yet to leave North America. (it’s on my bucket list and traveling to all 50 states!) I wanted to share a global perspective about how traveling can provide a life changing experience. I asked a few friends, who have traveled abroad throughout their college years and whom I admire so much, to share their experiences. These girls have guts! And that’s what I love about them: Their courage to step out into the unknown in order to learn, to serve and to become better human beings.

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Name: Lucy Casale                                                                                     University/College, Graduation Year: St. Olaf College, 2013                                     Major: English, media studies and women’s studies concentrations                             From Lucy: I studied abroad in England during the second semester of my sophomore year in 2011. It was an incredible experience! It really broadened my worldview and taught me a lot about myself. I took classes for six months at Lancaster, University and spent my weekends and holidays traveling around the country. Those weekend trips were the best. Favorite Memory: One of my most memorable trips included a visit to Manchester, where I visited the Manchester United soccer stadium and went on a stadium tour. The guide was great – he showed us the team locker room, press room and of course, the stadium, but he also gave us insider info like how many inches exactly that the pitch grass is cut to and what the power-foods are that the players eat at half-time.                                              Read more about Lucy’s experience here: https://www.hercampus.com/school/st-olaf/ole-abroad-lucy-save-date-royal-wedding-will-and-kate#main-content

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Lucy in front of the Houses of Parliament.

Name: Lashaunique Plummer
University/College, Graduation Year: University of Michigan, 2012
Major: Business
From Lashaunique: When I was in high school, I lived in a box. Engulfed by financial burdens, limitations and my own ignorance, I thought traveling abroad was not an option. Once I stepped onto University of Michigan’s campus, however, I knew there would be no box I would ever fit into again, especially when it came to traveling and new experiences. I was determined to travel abroad even if it was just for one week. I was able to travel to two different countries during my sophomore year of college. First, I traveled to Costa Rica for three weeks to learn about eco-tourism and sustainability. Second, I traveled to the Caribbean for vacation and fell in love with the beauty and the culture.
What she learned: I am glad that I let nothing stop me. I learned about different aspects of business and learned that I’m strongly interested in sustainability. Additionally, I learned about the Costa Rican culture, agriculture/plant life, food, and gained life-long friends.
Benefits of traveling abroad: Both experiences abroad are indescribable and have helped shape who I am today. I am even certain that two of my employers considered me because of my experiences abroad. I am extremely glad that I pursued my desire to travel because the world is much more interesting than a box!
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Lashaunique is all smiles at the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica.
Name: Erica DeLoera
University/College, Graduation Year: Oklahoma State University, 2012
Major: Apparel Merchandising, Minor: International Studies
From Erica: I had the opportunity to study abroad in summer 2010 and took courses on European Business Law and the history of the European Union. It was my first time visiting Europe and a dream come true. The following summer, I landed an internship in Los Angeles, another dream come true.
Favorite Memory: In LA, I was able to work for a large retailer and assist in a fashion show in Orange County. In Europe, I got to visit France, Italy and Switzerland. After visiting the Colosseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the romantic city of Venice, a beautiful island in Switzerland, and famous vineyards in France, I came to the realization that the world is so much bigger than we think!
What she learned: My time in Europe allowed me to see the way other cultures interact with society or how they go about their every day lives. It definitely left me open minded. In LA, I gained an invaluable experience and connected with leaders in the fashion industry and made friends that I still keep in touch with today.
Advice: Whether its leaving the country or leaving the state, I encourage everyone to travel. Just go somewhere, anywhere.
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Erica in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City in Rome
Name: Dajai Livingston
University/College, Graduation Year: University of Michigan, 2013
Major: Nursing
From Dajai: In May of 2013, I had the pleasure of traveling abroad for the first time. I went to Quito, Ecuador with a group of students interested in the health field. We visited different health care facilities and volunteered at clinics.
Favorite Memory: My most memorable experience was being able to support a woman in labor and getting to observe the excitement when she gave birth to her son. Another favorite memory was when I got to spend time at a clinic that provided service to a local elementary school and completed physical assessments.The kids were so grateful for the care provided and they enjoyed talking to us. Overall, it was a worth while experience.
What she learned: Although I had challenges adapting to the language barriers, I gained a new family and knowledge about the healthcare systems in South America. In addition, I gained a greater appreciation for the culture and all of the privileges I have in the U.S. My host family was big on family dining and made sure that we all ate our meals together. I appreciated this because it allowed time to reflect on our day. Family dining was one of the things that I brought back to my own home. All in all, I would return to Quito to give back and in the future I plan to travel to other countries to make a difference in many lives.
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Dajai embracing Ecuadorean children at a community outreach in Quito.
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Dressed in Ecuadorean ponchos, Dajai and two fellow students harness llamas.
Name: Casey Smith
University/College, Graduation Year: Oklahoma State University, 2013
Major: Nutritional Science
From Casey:  In summer 2013, I traveled to Panama for an evangelistic mission trip. We were there for two weeks. Most of our time was spent in the city walking around market places and various schools to present the gospel to the people in Panama.
Favorite Memory: In our last few days, we took a two hour canoe ride (in the pouring rain) outside the city, to a village called Mahay. There we got to play soccer with the kids, and helped villagers with anything they needed. In the jungle, we slept on the floor of a grass hut and ate fish that the villagers caught from the river. Roughing it in the jungle was my favorite experience of the whole trip, mostly because I got to have a soccer clinic for the kids there and then afterward my sister and I sat the kids down and shared the gospel.
What she learned: I realized that I take a lot of stuff for granted here in the states. Now I try to appreciate the small things, like being able to pet dogs here who just come up to you. In Panama a lot of dogs had diseases and people were afraid of them. Also, I took for granted how blessed we are to be well protected here. In Panama, women and children are not allowed to be outside the house past 5:00 p.m. because it was unsafe.
Advice: If there would be advice I would give to any student, it would be to travel somewhere outside the United States while you have the opportunity because it will change your whole world.
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Casey and the other volunteers playing soccer with the Mahay village children.
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Casey shows off a baby parrot in the village of Mahay.

People often ask me how I travel to new places on my own? How do I have the courage to move to new cities where I don’t know anyone? Am I not afraid? My answer, Yes, I am nervous every time, but I do it anyway. I have learned to smile at the unknown, to embrace the adventure of not knowing. That would be my advice to someone contemplating a new opportunity, whether it be traveling cross country, studying abroad or moving to a new city. Feel the butterflies, but do it anyway.

There will be every reason why you shouldn’t go.

It’s too expensive. You won’t know anyone. There is a language barrier. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. It’s out of your comfort zone.

Everything may be working against you. Your fears may tell you it is impossible. Negative people may say you cannot do it. Do it anyway! Go anyway! I guarantee you will not regret it. There is such a big world out there. I dare you to go out and explore it.

– Stephkt

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