Before I started my Mitchell year in Ireland, I had the incredible opportunity to spend three months wandering around Europe and India. With a backpack and a fledgling sense of independence, I embarked on my little journey to experience a new set of countries, languages, cultures, and people.
Though I didn’t keep much from the trip, I did keep a small little journal that was a gift from a dear friend in California as a goodbye present. Looking at that journal over the past couple of months has been a constant source of amusement. Near the beginning, I was still my same logical and analytical self – furiously scribbling down each and every activity and restaurant as if writing it down would make the experience last. Almost like an accountant, I subconsciously seemed to feel that if I correctly summed the experiences I had on the small pieces of paper I could somehow prove to myself and others that this trip actually existed.
Over time, the contents of the journal shifted. At about the halfway mark of the trip, there are these funny little drawings. I was couch-surfing with a student in Antwerp who kindly invited me to a family dinner at his aunt’s house. As we sat around the table, full after a delicious meal, we decided to have a contest to see who could make the best still-life drawing of a bowl of vegetables on the counter. My journal was now filled with oddly shaped zucchini drawings as well as the scribbles of my host’s three-year-old niece who thought it was quite funny to draw arms and legs on my vegetables. Safe to say our collaborative process won the contest.
My journal captures an internal shift that I’m starting to see and hope to continue. Though I appreciate the fact that I’ve spent the majority of my life in a very focused and concentrated fashion, I look at my time in Ireland as an opportunity to challenge another part of my brain. The part that seeks to experience small moments of beauty in the many wonderful people and places I experience, the part that finds value in the little drawings as opposed to the laundry list of activities.
Now, I’m definitely not trying to tell the “traveling has changed me forever” story. I’m still quite obsessed with my ambitions, work, and various other worldly pursuits. But I will say that taking a step out of the constant work cycle that seems to occupy undergraduate life in the United States has given me a much needed breather, a time to actually evaluate my thoughts and see where they are taking me. That little journal captures a bit of peace, a feeling of wonder that I hope to channel and apply to my day-to-day life. Though I can’t say I’ve discovered the right balance yet – I’m blessed that I have the opportunity to try.