Three months before I was scheduled to fly to Ireland for my semester abroad, I decided to take a two-week solo backpacking trip to Greece. Why? Because it scared the life out of me.
Despite the fear knotting in my stomach the days before I left, I still strapped on my backpack and handed over my boarding pass. The next two weeks were a jumbled mess of friendships, adventures, personal growth, and huge mistakes. It was exhausting. It was uncomfortable. It was beautiful.
I vividly remember speaking to an old woman in Athens, Greece, on my third night there. In the midst of our conversation, she gave me the best piece of advice I have ever received, one I think applies to nearly everything in life:
Be respectful of your own learning curve.
I didn’t realize it then, but it would shape the rest of my travels and the way I am currently adapting to my new home in Dublin.
So what does it mean? I’ll give you an example. On my first night in Greece, I stayed at an Airbnb. The owner gave me a strange key as I was leaving for the evening and told me to let myself in when I got back. 3:00 am rolled around, and I returned home. I studied the key and the lock and twisted it in every possible direction, stopping at every angle imaginable. But it would not open. I was so frustrated. It was a lock—how could I not open it? I stood there utterly lost, out of ideas, furious, and prepared to sleep in the hallway.
Luckily, another guest woke up and let me in a few minutes later. Instead of saying goodnight, I asked him to show me how to open the door. He did, and turns out there was a special trick with the locks in Greece. It took me one try to master it.
Guess what? Now I can lock the crap out of a Greek door.
Here’s the thing: when you’re traveling, you’re going to stumble and you’re going to fall. And you’ve got to adapt and learn quickly to keep your head above water and stand back up. But at the same time, when you’ve already fallen, you might as well not kick yourself while you’re down.
You’re going to mess up, so respect the fact that you don’t know some things—why would you? Then take the time to understand why you messed up, how you can fix it, and how you can avoid it next time. Studying abroad is about learning in every aspect: your academics, your cultural horizons, your street-smarts, and your personal essence. So don’t let anything happen without learning from it in some capacity.
So when that mistake inevitably comes, stop. Take a deep breath. Pause for a moment and comfort yourself. Whatever happened, there is some form of solution to the problem. And you will figure it out. You’re not stupid—you’re just learning.
The world awaits…discover it.