I’m in Germany after midnight on New Year’s Day, walking alone through darkness. An hour ago, I was in the city center, admiring fireworks among cheering strangers; now, my footsteps echo on a rural road. It has started to snow.

For the first time, I’m spending the holidays away from home. As I shiver in a foreign land, America has never seemed farther. From the opposite side of the Atlantic, I imagine my loved ones’ celebrations without me. The snowfall thickens; my vision blurs.

I think about my time abroad, the experiences I’ve shared with Zach, Rabhya, and other new friends. But the memories of my travels have already begun to fade. How many places have I seen that I might never again see? How many people have I met whom I might never again meet? I watch the snowflakes fill my footprints behind me.

My steps falter: I’ve reached the end of the path, and only a snowy field lies ahead — I am on my own, I realize suddenly. The silence feels overwhelming.

I place one foot into the snow, then another. I chose the Mitchell not for the destination but for the journey, I remind myself, and my difficulties and discomforts define the process of growth. Only through solitude can one develop independence; only through ambiguity can one attain purpose. Though I recognize no landmarks in the shadows, I press forward, embracing the liberty of finding my own direction.

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