Today marks the end of my program, and as I sit on my 12 hour bus ride to Hamburg, Germany to see my family, I’m replaying the days of my trip in my head. Personally, I do not really learn unless I am challenging myself and pushing beyond my comfort zone, and this trip has been a mix of both, comfort and challenge.
My program was advertised as a Global Leadership program, a series of courses and excursions designed to enhance our skills to lead and inspire others. About half of our presenters had no idea why we were at their institution. We went from visiting the Deutsche Bundesbank, to the City Hall in Frankfurt, and then the European Youth Center, and ended one of our days by talking about yoga and practicing a few breathing exercises. We also had a presentation on leadership training, except prior to starting, the presenter asked if we had signed up to be at his workshop. When we explained this was part of our program, he expressed confusion because he had never worked with our age demographic. Many of the outings felt arbitrarily placed and random, as if the days were just open time slots that needed to be filled with some type of presentation. Trying to extract a message and purpose out of so many excursions was a significant challenge. Although I really enjoyed visiting the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the European Youth Center to name a few, the presentations covered the same ideas and my reflections became less meaningful and increasingly redundant.
As I previously mentioned, I completed my Intercultural Communication course with another professor and primarily focused on Franco-German relations. The second course was on Global Leadership and we discussed personality types, negotiations, diplomacy and optics of being a large scale leader. Using this information, we broke into small teams and developed solutions to lowering the price of college. Collectively, we decided on implementing private sector work studies, working with state governments to adjust their budgets to support education, and teaching students about options other than college as well. The purpose of this activity was to see how we can make a large problem into a more manageable one, but also to give us hope as future leaders. As the course was largely based on discussion, I learned a lot about myself and my own abilities. I was constantly challenged, thinking about how I can improve and implement new skills into my leadership style.
During the program, we had a few opportunities for travel and I was fortunate enough to travel to Paris, Rome, and Barcelona. Along with 3 of my friends in the program, we ran into endless problems. Our bus was late, our check-in did not work, our boarding passes were not scanning, we had to sleep in the airport, the hostel is only booked for 2 people instead of 4 – these are just some of the few issues we ran into- but each time, we pushed through. We learned how to communicate when we didn’t know the language, how to stay calm during adversity, how to remain optimistic after so many things go wrong during a trip. With these 3 individuals, I found family and solace. Saying goodbye to my friends seemed like I was leaving my brother and sisters behind, and even though we come from New York, Florida, Georgia, and West Virginia, we ended our goodbyes with “see you soon!” I wasn’t ready for that. I wasn’t ready to leave the people I spend all day every day with, and hopefully someday see them again in the future. Out of all the stories that I’ve heard about studying abroad, no one is lying when they say you will meet your lifelong friends on your trip.
I learned about leadership and about myself. I learned how to maneuver hostels and airports. I saw the entire country of France celebrate when they won the World Cup, and I saw hundreds of little fish while I snorkeled through Costa Brava in Spain. I have met so many people, and I have been blessed with too many opportunities and experiences to count. Although my program started off on the wrong foot, I am very happy that I decided to stay and experience as much as I did. Maybe I’ll even return to France one day!