By Peter Mate, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Vancouver Campus, winner of the 2017 Stories from Abroad Scholarship.
I’m nervous – my hands tremble. I fly home bearing more questions than I can answer.
My semester, academically, is a success – I have a basic grasp of refugee law and contemporary citizenship; I’ve walked along the Danube, Siene and Thames; I’ve marched to Hungary’s parliament and climbed the Buda Hills; I’ve sat in wonderment at the Big Ben and the Eiffel tower. Yet, I’m restless.
I’m restless because of the world I leave behind. In a Hungarian refugee reception center, I saw people living in shipping containers. Surrounded by razor wire and isolated, many were idle, hoping to be granted Asylum. In mass demonstrations in Budapest, threats against CEU have placed me in the crosshairs of a clash between ideologies. These experiences evidence a turbulent world – an uncertain world. Venturing into the unknown is difficult because of its challenges: different currents struggle for dominance, while ideas and opinions struggle for sunlight. In this chaos, it’s easier to retreat to shore – to safety.
Safety is appealing – it’s comforting because it guarantees stability. When staying on shore, you can hide from the world’s problems in a breakwater of comfort. This comfort is intoxicating. While you lounge at home, you can watch others struggle in the turbulent waters or gasp for air. The outside world may become distant. The Internet and Television may make the outside world alien as images of war and disease evidence a hostile world. Despite this safety – the shore becomes a prison. Its temporary comforts breed complacency and later regret. As time marches forward, opportunities fade. In the twilight of life unexplored seas begin to freeze, leaving behind questions – What ifs.
These questions are what keep me awake. My time in Europe is almost gone, giving way to questions over whether I’m satisfied. I regularly look into the mirror and ask myself if I’m proud of what I’ve done. In the past 10 days I’ve explored Prague, Brussels, Paris and London. In the past 4 months, my perspective on life has changed. I’ve made it into international news and learned revolutionary ideas. Realizing how much I don’t know has revolutionized my mind. There will always be someone smarter, more charismatic and stronger than I. Due to this, competition is pointless. Victories are meant to realize a passion – to make you, the traveler happy. What I’ve found is that perusing happiness is the noblest competition. From chatting with friends in a Parisian Michelin star restaurant, to taking a 13 – hour bus ride between Prague and Brussels, I’ve never been happier. One of my fondest memories is chatting politics with my cohorts in the streets of Vienna in April. These memories are what provide me character and depth – without these experiences I would not be who I am today.
Despite these newfound memories, doubt and internal conflict will arise. Inevitably you – the traveler will question your decision because of the life you’ve left behind. While you’re gone, others lives will march forward. People will marry, others may pass away – time moves forward for them aswell. Since I’ve left home in August, friends and family celebrated birthdays, many have moved, while others become distant. This is the price that must be paid. Many decide to find happiness in safety; to them stability is more important than to adventure. I respectfully disagree – There is an entire world to explore. Regardless of the price, exploring forces courage to take the place of fear. This courage emboldens you to look outward, despite the anxiety of leaving safe harbour.
I have no idea what I will do when I arrive home. I have no work and little money to spare. What I do have are memories that will last a lifetime. In this sense, as I await my flight home, I’m nervous because of my future. I’m anxious – I can’t sleep. My future seems uncertain. Despite these worries, I find solace in Mark Twain’s words: “Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”.