By Marlowe Jacobsen
In my travels this past year, first on an exchange program in Copenhagen, and then second to Australia, people often ask me: “What was the most beautiful place you went?” “What was your favorite part about this city and that city?” “Did you do anything crazy?”
I made wonderful memories during my times abroad. My travels were filled with the most incredible experiences, but I sometimes still have a hard time telling people about the special moments. One day, my friends and I watched the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in our pajamas, and I can honestly say that was one of my favorite memories. But oftentimes you just can’t say that to people after living in a foreign country. I mean, let’s face it, that’s not what grandma (who gave you some serious cash for this trip), wants to hear.
So I of course answer with the classics: “Italy is so beautiful! You just have to go.” I rave about the romance in Paris, the nightlife in Barcelona and the culture in Berlin. And that’s all real. Those places are truly amazing (and you totally should go), but what I often don’t tell people is that those places were special not because I crossed off every single tourist attraction and posted the perfect sunsets on social media. They were special because of the people I shared them with.
Not every experience will be alike, and I’m not claiming to have the ultimate travel handbook. After all, there are many different reasons people wander this incredible planet. However, if you find people who truly get you to your core, who have your same innate drive to discover the world and laugh/cry with you when a cockroach runs across your foot in a hostel, hang on to those people. They will make your experience not only beautiful and profound, but lasting.
They say a person remembers emotions more than any other sense you perceive. The beautiful scenes of a city will undoubtedly fade in your mind with time, but you will remember how you felt in those moments and the thrilling buzz of electricity that surrounded the friends you shared them with.
So if I had one piece of advice for those going on an exchange program, find your people. I encourage you to branch out from the circle of your home university and embrace what’s new and different. When you take that dive into the unknown, that is when you truly allow yourself to grow. And in my case, it also led to very unexpected places.
Those same friends I made in Copenhagen ended up inviting me to their homes in Australia where I just spent the winter holiday. These are friends I now know I will have for life, and I thank the stars everyday for sending these incredible people to me. No matter how many miles there are between us or how many years pass, we will have these experiences for the rest of our lives.
In the end, I promise you that it’s not the places you go, but the people you share it with.