Three weeks ago, I sat in my father's house with my dog in my lap and sobbed.
I had wanted nothing more for my entire life than to leave the safety of my home and to go explore the world. The moment had come, yet I was utterly terrified. I sobbed and I freaked out and I baked a lot of random desserts — a random coping mechanism I have recently developed — in an attempt to calm the nerves.
I was so excited for what the next two months would hold, but it was too real. Suddenly, I actually had to do what I had been telling everyone I would.
Now, I am sitting in a hidden coffee shop in Prague, Czech Republic. When I return to my apartment tonight, I will again pack my bags. Tomorrow as I walk up the 300 or so steps to our classroom, I will probably cry. I will probably cry again as I walk out of the classroom for the final time and say goodbye to my professor.
These tears will be of sadness, fear and excitement, just like they were three weeks ago.
I found a home here in Prague, whether I expected it or not. I found a piece of myself I think has always been missing.
Yes, maybe that piece is traveling and exploring new places, but it feels deeper than that.
In the last three weeks, I got to explore a city that is so rich in history. The people here are so loving and so passionate about their way of life.
One thing that never occurred to me before arriving here was how much the Ukraine War was affecting the Czech people. Hearing the stories from locals about the things their families have been through, the fear they feel for the future and the love they have for the refugees they have taken in changed my whole outlook on the city.
[Related: COLUMN: Do it anyways]
I got to experience so much that this breathtaking place has to offer, from the pastel renaissance architecture around every corner to the jaw dropping views overlooking the city to the countless dance clubs and music scene. There was never a dull moment and never a moment I would take back.
I got to meet new people from all around the world. I made friends from Scottland, Germany, Ireland and more. I made connections with people I never thought possible and got to learn about so many different cultures and ways of life.
As I walked down the street with three of my friends from the class, a 17-year-old kid complimented my friend. When he responded in English, the group of kids began screaming, “You’re American! Guys, I found more Americans.”
We proceeded to talk to them for the next 15 minutes in the dead center of a bustling street. As hundreds of people passed us, we stood, talked and laughed. Over 4,000 miles away from home, and we managed to make a connection with people from Ohio – how does that even happen?
On Saturday, I will board a bus with three people I met three weeks ago, and we will begin a new adventure. I’m sure I will be equally terrified then as I was three weeks ago. In fact, I can already feel the fear creeping in.
But life moves so fast. These three weeks came and went in the blink of an eye. I swear it was less than a week ago that I was lugging my massive backpack up eight flights of stairs to my apartment that I would share with four people I hardly knew.
I cannot repeat it enough: life moves so fast. If you let the fear overcome you, let it hold you back, you might miss the whole thing.
Gentry Keener (she/her) is a junior studying journalism and political science.