I had been in love with the idea of living in Europe for as long as I can remember. I would imagine my various adventures throughout the continent, such as sitting in a café in view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, walking down the foggy cobblestone streets of London, and riding on the back of a cute boy’s motor scooter in Rome, a la The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Similar to Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace, I was drawn into a fantasy world when I saw pictures of European cities. I planned my future around someday, if even only temporarily, living in Europe. One of the main reasons I even chose to attend Loyola was for the school’s excellent study abroad programs. When I heard about Loyola’s first and longest year-long program in Leuven, Belgium, I knew that I had to go. Adventure was calling and I had been waiting a long time to finally answer.
There were quite a few reasons why I chose Loyola’s study abroad program in Leuven. First of all, the program was ten months long, running from the end of August through June, meaning ample travel time. Second, the program included a week-long trip in France, a weekend in Amsterdam, and a ten-day trip in Italy, as well as several one-day trips. Finally, Belgium is centrally located and perfect for travelling to other countries on the weekends. Studying abroad in Leuven seemed like the perfect fit for my extreme wanderlust.
During my ten months abroad, I visited at least fifteen different countries. I have slept in hostel rooms with complete strangers, overnight in airports, and occasionally nodded off on various forms of public transportation. I have met people from all over the world and befriended many of them during my short forty-eight hour stays in various cities. I have been on countless free walking tours of cities and have seen historical landmarks such as the Charles Bridge in Prague, the House of Parliament in London, and the Coliseum in Rome. All of these aspects, plus many more, make up my memories of my travels while abroad.
I learned a lot about myself and grew so much during my time travelling. I always knew that I was organized and a planner, and put myself in charge of keeping track of everyone’s airline tickets, hostel reservation confirmations, and maps during our many travels. I have also always been a quiet person who doesn’t like to speak up, but I was almost always the one designated to ask strangers for help when we were lost or confused. While I didn’t physically turn into a dragon, or anything else for that matter, like Eustace when he leaves the group on the second island, my travel experiences changed me for the better. I have refined my organizational skills and have learned to push myself more in challenging and uncomfortable situations.
While reading the novel, I connected my own travel experiences with those of the characters of Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The novel is simply about the characters’ quest to find the seven lost lords, although it focuses more on the characters’ journey than simply finding the lords. Every character’s experience is different and every character changes in a different way, something that I find true for everyone’s journeys. One of my favorite cities that I visited may be one of my friends’ least favorite, and vice versa. It is more important to note what we learn about ourselves and take away from our experience that makes travelling so great. I can take a step back and look at everything that I learned and be proud of my personal growth, all thanks to my experiences while travelling abroad.