Sunday, June 24, 2012

Going Places

Back in April--when I was deciding on exact dates for when I'd leave to Estonia where I am working on my final project for school--I figured out I would likely arrive to Estonia on my birthday.

"Wow, I never thought I'd beat the birthday I went to Venice," I commented.

And then I realized.

I sounded like a totally spoiled, rotten brat.

And maybe I am. Sometimes when we discuss topics on the podcast and we're able to talk about actually going and seeing this painting or that statue, I wonder how many of you think well, that's nice... I'll never get to do that. Which is why I'm here to assure you...


You see, I haven't been on study abroad because of some hidden wealth I have, or my family for that matter. In fact, if you saw my bank statements you would laugh. Hard.

So I thought it might be helpful to give you a few tips on how I've been able to visit all over Europe and, more importantly, how you could too!

1) Don't bother with a Plan B.

This was actually a suggestion a friend verbalized, but which I have found most helpful. Don't talk about plans to go somewhere as "well, some day... when I win the lottery... and don't have to work anymore". Guess what... it won't happen! Estonia has been a place I have wanted to go my entire life. Literally. My grandparents came from this little country and when I was thinking about projects I would want to work on, I knew this was it. People--with good intentions I'm sure--would ask "what if..." and something along the lines of what I would do if I didn't do that project. This came from concerned parents more than anywhere else.

I ignored this to the best of my ability. I was lucky to have advising professors that never threw a "what if" or asked for a back-up plan. And, more importantly, I knew that it wasn't time to think or invest in a "Plan B". I knew I was smart enough to have others ideas, if it came down to it, but I also knew I was smart enough to come up with ways to make Estonia happen. If you really want to go some place, do it! As the cliche goes, "if there's a will, there's a way!"

2) Keep an eye out for opportunities.

I applied for a million grants and scholarships. At least that's what it felt like. And guess what... not one of them came through. Admittedly, I was disappointed, but I hadn't been waiting for the answers to figure out how to fund my project. I did what I could, savings-wise, and had some help and advice from a fellow student who had used Kickstarter, which is a way of setting up a creative projects and requesting funding from anyone and everyone. I was able to get some jobs (via Craigslist) in this month while I've been waiting to go, and I am continually looking for ways I might be able to work remotely from across the ocean. Do what you have to and take every chance there is.

Another example was when I had the chance to go to Italy for the study abroad program with UVU. Two weeks before the application deadline a couple made available grant money for students who wanted to go, but couldn't afford it on their own. I still don't know these generous people, but am grateful for the opportunity this provided. For my part, I had kept good grades and got the application in with a request to be one of the benefactors. If you're in school, look for any kind of grants and scholarships that can give you these amazing opportunities. They're out there if you're looking.

3) Be Smart, not Scared

When you're about to venture out into some great unknown, people will give you a look. It's one where eyes widen, jaws slacken, and a sort of incredulous/impressed "wow" comes out without any effort. "Wait... you don't know anyone there? You're going by yourself???"

Why yes, yes I am. I live on my own, I drive all over the states on my own, I work and play and study on my own... why on earth would I feel an absolute need to have someone with me when I travel? The fact is, most places are about the same, safety-wise. Yes, there are pickpockets and thieves... but tell me... how is that any different from home?

The major difference is that we are familiar enough at home to know when something or someone is "off". When you're traveling elsewhere it isn't so much that you need to be worried about every person who passes, but that you need to prepare in a smart manner as you go out. Pack your bag in a way that makes it next to impossible for someone to just grab your wallet. They're looking for easy targets, so don't be one. Even if you look paranoid, wear your backpack on the front in the subway. Read up and understand how these pickpockets work. Don't be in secluded places after dark (at least for girls this is pretty much the same as if you're home, right?).

Really, to sum it up, there's nothing to be scared about. Be aware of your surroundings and you will enjoy traveling whether or not you are on your own or with a group of 100 people. Just don't let fear be a deterrent for seeing the world.

I hope that this helps to get at least a few people out there and going places. You never know who you're going to meet or what experiences you're going to have. Lucky for me, I've had aunts and uncles keep up with some relatives here in Estonia. I've been able to meet a few people, so far, and hope to meet more and build up relationships with people from around the world. Take a chance and you may just surprise yourself!

Happy Travels!

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