Only a little over a week left until the April 8th deadline for the Friends Don’t Let Friends Not Travel contest from our friends at Do It While You’re Young (DIWYY). DIWYY co-founder Jerri Stephenson shares her first trip abroad in our series of FDLFNT stories. Nominate your friend and let them create their own story!
Guest Post by Jerri Stephenson, co-founder of DIWYY
“Is the fog in London really ‘thick as pea soup?’” my best friend from back home in Texas, Rose, asked me in an email.
“Yes, yes it is!” I replied. But in all honesty, I had not seen any fog during my summer long study abroad in Oxford, England.
My first trip abroad, and frankly to a big city (London), was extraordinarily exciting and eye-opening for this small town girl from West Texas who grew up on a longhorn ranch and had never ventured out of the United States. Texans are quite fond of perpetuating stories about our beloved Lone Star State (Everything is bigger in Texas!) and are equally inclined to believe the idioms describing far away lands as well. I managed to carry on the Texas tradition of exaggerating the truth in my stories that I emailed back to my friends. I couldn’t help it. Everything to me was new, huge and exciting.
Sadly, when preparing for my first trip abroad, the only working knowledge I had of England was Mary Poppins, the Spice Girls and Harry Potter. It’s quite pathetic I know. The good news is that I was more than eager to learn as much as possible about the people, the places and the culture of the destinations I was traveling to.
Arriving in Heathrow, I giggled with delight when I had my first conversation with someone with a real British accent! I resolved to return home to Texas with an accent to impress my friends. On the drive into Oxford from the airport, I watched in wonder as our charter bus drove on the left hand side of the road and maneuvered through roundabouts without ending up in an accident. I marveled at how small the cars were and was astonished at all the McDonald’s and KFC restaurants there were. How naïve I was!
Over the course of the 8 week summer session in Oxford, I managed to visit Scotland, Italy, and France on the weekends between classes. I learned how to navigate the tube and “mind the gap” in London. I stood in awe (while trying to avoid the pigeons and crowds) in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, viewed the Mona Lisa (she’s so small!) in Paris and tasted haggus (yuck!) in Edinburgh.
I was not prepared for how much I would love Europe. My favorite professor on the study abroad trip told the students that this trip would be a once in a lifetime experience. “Some of you,” Professor Weingeart said, “will never come back to Europe again. You will go back to your lives, graduate from college, get married and have children and careers. Remember and cherish this moment.”
At that moment, I vowed that I would go back to Europe again no matter what. In fact, I planned to live there someday although I didn’t know at the time how to make that happen. I just knew that with the life changing experiences that I had experienced I could not ever return to the naïve person I was before. In fact, I realized that if I had learned so much about the world in such a short time, there had to be even more to see and do that I have never even imagined. My life was never going to be the same again.
Since that trip, I have traveled to six out of seven continents, returned to Europe twice including living in Barcelona and visited 35 countries and I am not done yet. My first trip abroad was the greatest decision I have ever made and could not imagine my life today if I had never taken that first step to travel abroad.