There is a popular saying among parents: “If your friend jumps off a bridge, would you jump, too?”

My parents found out very early on that I was always the friend that jumped first.

In the small, blue-collar community outside of New Orleans where I grew up in, there is a tendency to remain sedentary. The common route is to graduate high school, find a job, fall in love, and remain.

I always admired my adventurous nature, my ability to venture towards an unknown regardless of the risks, and my defiance towards this typical pathway, My parents, on the other hand, did not.

When I came home during Spring Break, 2018, I told them that I incrementally saved $2000 throughout my several college jobs, and that I was going to travel Europe by myself. They were not alone in their shock and disapproval: the majority of my friends did not particularly understand my decision as well.

At this time, I was confirmed for my study abroad program in Madrid in June and July. This decision to travel beyond Spain a month before, in May, was the riskiest decision I have yet to make. It would be a lie to say I was not terrified.

Looking back, I would not change a single moment.

The main rationalization for attending a study abroad program is to have the ability to experience, grow, and learn outside of your comfortability. This is impossible to achieve without moments of frustration and struggle. Like everything in life, it is from your experiences, especially your mistakes, that you adapt to the reality surrounding you.

When I departed for Heathrow International on May 10, I began my journey to navigate around an unfamiliar continent. In Paris, Zurich, Rome, and, yes, Madrid, I had to adapt my communication skills to acclimate to societies where English is not the default.

As a talkative person, this initially proved immensely difficult. Traveling alone, I had to learn how to adapt. I needed to learn to find comfort with being alone at times, along with patience and receptiveness in the conversations I encountered. As a result, I gained a new sense of independence and humility that may have taken years to achieve in the United States.

After learning to break these barriers, my relationship with the world expanded. I connected with people from around Europe, creating memories that will last until my last breath.

I’m still working to break some of those barriers. There are still obstacles with language, even Spanish, which I spent years studying. However, each day that I walk the streets of Madrid, I find new, fascinating ways to connect rather than separate our shared humanity.

Venture towards the unknown. You do not need to take quite the leap I did, but step outside the invisible bubble we all create for protection. Volunteer for an English as a Second Language (ESL) class. Take a day trip to a small town beyond your home.

The world is waiting, whether you are in the U.S. or not.