At FlipKey, we value the importance of travel and cultural immersion as a way to learn about the world firsthand, which is why we held a contest to win a $1,000 study abroad scholarship. We asked entrants to tell us in a 1,000-word essay why travel is important to him or her, and we want to send a big thank you to everyone who entered and helped make the contest a success!
A special congratulations to Caroline Brock of Arcadia University in Pennsylvania, the winner of the FlipKey Study Abroad Scholarship! From tuition costs to plane tickets and spontaneous excursions in between, we hope you use the $1,000 to create lots of memories during your semester abroad in Spain.
The winning essay is printed in full below:
The first time I left America, I was afraid. I was 16. I had taken six months of Spanish. I was going to be staying with a Spanish family. For just seven days. “Just seven days,” I kept telling myself. “If it’s awful I’ll get through it day by day. Just seven days.” I had packed a box of granola bars in my suitcase in case I couldn’t stomach the food. People have survived on less than a box of granola bars for longer amounts of time than seven days, I told myself. Just seven days. And in ‘just seven days’ I can honestly say that my life changed.
I fell in love with Spain, with the language, the culture, the food, and the people, in just seven days. My suitcase was a pack of granola bars lighter on the flight home—I had tossed those in the nearest trashcan after my first bite of paella. I’m now a Spanish major, and craving the sensation of being in Spain for far longer than seven days. Seven days taught me that taking risks pays off, that no matter what language they speak or food they eat, people are people, and life was made for connecting with as many people as possible. That’s why I chose Spanish as a major, language unlocks so many opportunities to connect with others.
Since that trip to Spain I’d been waiting for the next opportunity to live somewhere new for longer than just a week. I was extremely fortunate to be accepted into Arcadia’s First Year Study Abroad Experience in London. I spent three months in a constant state of awe at the fact that I was doing it, I was living abroad. One weekend, I took a 10-hour bus to Caernarfon, Wales. There I attempted to hike Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. When my friends and I arrived at the base of the mountain, we asked a few locals “Which way up?” to which they responded, “Honestly, you’re not really equipped to go up the mountain in this weather,” as they eyed our Sperry rainboots and thing jackets. It was February in Wales, and drizzling. So we went up anyway. We made it about halfway until the rain and wind picked up to the point where we had to turn around. But I can’t describe the feeling of life that I got from that hike. And then the next morning, we got back on the bus to London. We spent about 20 hours on buses that weekend, and about the same amount of waking time in Wales. But those few hours were so full that I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Living in London was like living in a dream. Every morning I woke up before class to go on a run through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. I couldn’t believe that this life was mine. On some weekends I explore the city, and on others I took a short plane ride to explore a new country. And during the weekdays I was in classes that aimed to engage us in the city—I read Mrs. Dalloway one night and the next I was tracing her steps through the city we both called home. I was reading articles about diversity and seeing it become part of my life as I blissfully battled the crushing crowds around booths from all around the world at Borough Market.
One of the most profound effects that living in London had on me was the self reflection that was imposed on me, both towards myself and my country. People from home were surprised when I told them I would be going abroad half of my first year of college. I just wasn’t the type to take such a large leap of faith. But I proved to myself that I could do it.
And that’s why travel is important to me, because it changes people. After London, I wasn’t the same person as I was before, because visceral experiences like that of living abroad wrench you open and reconfigure you. They make you more confident in yourself, and yet more humble and acknowledging of your position as a small piece to a very, very large world. And I can say that I am still growing, healthily unsatisfied with where I am, with hopes of perpetually tearing my ideas down to form new ones, to change and be changed. Now I’m a mentor for other first year students going abroad to London, and I advise them on how much money they’ll need, remind them to tell their bank they’ll be abroad, make lists of useful tips for the city. But I can’t begin to explain to them the most important aspect of study abroad, they have to experience that for themselves.
When I go to study abroad in Spain I want every waking hour to be as full as my hours in Wales were. I want to challenge myself, I want to expand my worldview, I want to absorb everything. I want my preconceptions and notions of the world to be shattered and rebuilt into the intricate mosaic that is the human experience on Earth. I want to come back to America and share that with those who haven’t been lucky enough to study abroad. I want to come back and help other people to understand what’s out there. To encourage them to take a risk, to travel, to breathe. Because sometimes in our everyday lives we breathe only because our brain tells us to. I want to fill my lungs with air because I want every cell of my body to experience what my eyes are seeing. I want to breath, and live, with a purpose.