At 22 I was the epitome of the average working college student: sleepy-eyed, coffee-in-hand, always chattering along with alternate versions of myself. In my second to last semester of college, my favorite professor announced that he would be teaching a study-abroad course over winter break in Cambodia. The more he talked about the opportunity, the more interested I became. I left class thinking I might actually do it.
My immediate excitement gave in to excuses as the weeks passed. The trip would be expensive, I would have less time to spend with my family over break, I didn’t have a passport, and I hadn’t really traveled before. Most of all, I was terrified of taking the risk.
As time slipped away, the deadline to make a deposit loomed closer. I sought the advice of my friends and family, all of whom told me to go. I had always dreamed of traveling the world and studying abroad was a major point on my bucket list; as a senior, this was my last chance to do so. Still, I felt paralyzed by fear. I was scared I would come home a different person and that my perfect little bubble would shatter.
On the last day to make my deposit, something clicked. I felt as if I finally opened my eyes and saw myself clearly. Why was I so scared to take this chance? I had moved away from home, had almost graduated college, and had overcome a plethora of small scale fears. How could I let fear get in the way of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?
So l leaned in. I was scared yet excited on the plane, but my fears faded as soon as the wheels touched the runway. I soon found myself immersed in ancient, ornate mountain-top temples. I spent my days teaching impoverished orphans rudimentary English, learned a little Khmer myself, and became an expert at dodging chaotic traffic and bargaining with Cambodian store owners. By the end of my stay, I had fallen in love with travel, exploration and a life of daily wonders.
My experience in Cambodia was incredible and life changing. I came back a different person – but a better one – a better friend, sister, daughter, girlfriend and student. I came back a grown woman instead of a young girl.
After Cambodia, my life clicked into place. Before the trip, I hadn’t known what I wanted to do after graduation; now I am planning on teaching English abroad. I am still amazed by my experience and thankful for everything it taught me. I now have a passion for conquering fears, big or small, and have a renewed faith in God and myself. I truly feel like my adult, post-academia life is off to a great start that will lead to a bright future—and it all began with that one step into the ancient unknown.