Student sitting next to the Seine in Paris

One Way Ticket

Ella Damstra, Johns Hopkins University '20

I want to try my hand at things I could be bad at. I want to take risks and to keep taking on an active role in my own life, in seeking out opportunities to let go of what I know in favor of what could be bigger or better or more well-suited for my talents and interests.

I am not a particularly adventurous person. Unknowns? Risk-taking? Roller coasters? No, thank you. There were a lot of reasons I was nervous to go abroad, but the whole “uncharted territory” thing was particularly hard to digest.

This semester came with a lot of challenges that I did not anticipate- and believe me, I thought I had expertly anticipated them all! But let me tell you what I also had not anticipated: my ability to overcome all of these challenges. Was there a steep learning curve? Sure. Was it mentally and emotionally exhausting at times, taking all of the newness in? Of course.

But by cultivating relationships with peers in my program, by being honest with myself about my feelings, and by taking time to really care for myself, did I triumph over any “obstacles” in my way? Absolutely. And it’s hard to describe how accomplished I felt standing on the other end of the semester. I had worked hard and gained knowledge, skills, and so many beautiful experiences along the way.

It is an incredible cliché, but life really does lie in the journey and not the “destination.” I had always thought that returning home was my destination—but in so many ways, returning to the US was only the beginning of my “abroad experience.” My semester in Paris continues to be richly rewarding even now as I sit in a familiar library at my home university.

In a way, my trip to Paris was a one-way ticket, because my abroad experience will never truly be over. Right here, at my “home base”, is where a new leg of the journey begins. This is the part where I get to decide how I use the lessons I learned over the course of the past four months to keep moving forwards. And the biggest lesson of all was that there is so much potential in unknown, uncomfortable, and potentially difficult situations. Even though I am incredibly proud and satisfied of the semester I had in Paris, I am even hungrier than I was before for new challenges, new opportunities to see the world in a new way and to develop and invest in myself. Right now, this desire is manifesting itself in the form of me applying for internships in business and management- fields that are, as of yet, completely foreign to me. I want to try my hand at things I could be bad at. I want to take risks and to keep taking on an active role in my own life, in seeking out opportunities to let go of what I know in favor of what could be bigger or better or more well-suited for my talents and interests.

I had a difficult time doing as much shopping as I wanted to at the end of the semester – there simply was no space left in my suitcases. But baggage limitations aside, in a very real way, Paris gave me a lot to bring back: courage, a sense of adventure, wisdom, perspective. And I think we all have room for that.