“I can’t believe it, but I can,” I wrote on my flight to Paris. On this day last year, I embarked on a crazy solo adventure that I had meticulously planned for months. I refrain from deeming it a cliché “life-changing” adventure, even though it very well changed my goals, my spirit and my perception of the world.
Few things are as exciting and terrifying as being completely alone in a foreign country for nearly three months. It was strange, having no one to call and nowhere to be. In the most touristy city in the world, it’s funny how I was surrounded by people yet felt so alone.
Alone, but not lonely (put the tissues away because this is not a tear-jerker).
I’ve always been pretty independent and self-sufficient. I thrive on being my toughest critic and prefer to figure things out on my own. But put me in a totally foreign place and and stick a huge language barrier in front of me? The challenge was on.
First, I had to figure out what in the world I was going to do in Paris. So many options, so much time, so little money. When I got lost, I couldn’t whip out my smart phone and rely on the Google Maps safety net. For a while, I didn’t even have a phone. Communication was a major issue. I whole-heartedly believe that half of the French language is mastering the accent—being able to both speak and understand it. I embarrassed myself on the reg, moved on, and eventually acquired enough to get by. I’m still studying the language and hope to be fluent someday.
Beyond the logistics and self-improvement side of the journey, my belief in the kindness of strangers was verified over and over again. I’ll never forget the old man who spoke to me for a good 30 minutes in French and showed me Oscar Wilde’s grave in Père Lachaise, the French couple that happily wrote a list of recommendations on a receipt while I was eating at a bistro alone, the guy who gave me free gelato and the American expats who insisted on letting me keep the €35 change, telling me “enjoy it, you’re only 22.” My Airbnb hosts, flat mates and friends of friends were nothing but nice. People really are inherently good.
So I look back on the magnifique experience, still thankful and inspired. A lot has changed since then: first job, more travels, new goals. Overcoming the personal and cultural challenges that come with traveling alone makes you overly optimistic, in a good way. It’s a story that sticks with you forever. While the learning experience fuels your curiosity and ambition, it helps you focus and keeps you grounded as well. I’m fully content with life at this moment and excited for the opportunities ahead. If you tell me that all of that Parisian goodness really happened a whole year ago, this is what I say: I can’t believe it, but I can.