RSJ contributor Megan Edmiston lost herself & everything along with it. So what did she do? After fighting, screaming and shedding many tears, she packed her bags and headed across the ocean.
It was a spur decision made in 10 minutes at 2am on a Friday night when everyone else was having a ‘normal’ college life. I pointed my finger on a map, found a school, filled out the application and impatiently waited for an acceptance letter. Barely a week had gone by before Franklin College sent me an email congratulating me into their summer program. “We’ll see you in Lugano” were their final words. I panicked slightly realizing that I really hadn’t planned this out, something I never did. The panic quickly wore off and I began researching everything I could on Lugano.
Located in Ticino–the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland– the city was nestled on Lake Lugano. Italian food, Swiss people and a lake- I didn’t have a problem with any of this. There was no way it could be worse than my life at the moment. I was barely halfway into my first year of college and I was already miserable. I consumed myself in schoolwork- spending my Friday nights working on a paper that wasn’t due for a month. I needed something to distract me, and now I spent hours daydreaming about my Switzerland summer.
I had traveled to Europe once in high school with People to People Student Ambassadors, but that was with 42 people who I had spent 6 months getting to know before the trip. I wouldn’t know anyone this time and I loved that. I didn’t want anyone to know my past before I had the chance to share it. I didn’t want anyone to know that I had absolutely no friends my first year in college, and I most certainly didn’t want them to know about the horrible personal struggle I was going through either.
I surprisingly managed to survive my freshman year with a not-so-surprising outstanding GPA and I was ready for Switzerland. I packed up my brand new Nikon D5000 along with my 2 brightly colored suitcases. My dad, brother and I would be traveling before school started so, like every girl, I over packed and would later pay the price while trying to catch countless trains across Italy. After living off croissants in Geneva, drinking Terre Bianche wine in Portofino, eating my weight in gelato in Milan and overdosing on Mozzarella in Lake Como, it was time for Lugano. The morning of orientation, I awoke with a knot in my stomach. I was somewhere in between ecstatic and too nervous to breathe. My dad and brother were prepared to calm me down and stay with me for the day if needed. They had seen the wreck I had been for the last year, and they weren’t about to leave me on another continent unless they knew I was ready.
My RA, Madison, was there to greet me and show me my dorm- I was the last to arrive. We passed an Irish pub and an Italian restaurant (places that I would spend countless hours in) before we arrived. A curly haired girl with a big, welcoming smile instantly poked her head out of her room. Her name was Dana and she was the sweetest girl I had ever met. I would find myself thinking the same thought as soon as my next roommate poked her head out. She consumed me with a hug before I even learned her name, Gillian. My final roommate came out, introduced herself as Finise and immediately asked me if I knew about the mall that was somewhere nearby. I had no idea but my interests were peaked. I quickly unpacked my bag and headed out to explore Lugano with my roommates. My dad, brother and I said our goodbyes- they could tell all my emotions had turned to relief and excitement.
After three amazing weeks, it was time to go home. I threw my clothes in my bag, said goodbye to the wonderful people who I had come to love and reluctantly got on the train to Geneva. As the train left the station, I tried my hardest not to burst into tears. For the first time in so long, I had found a place that felt like home. Not only was I leaving Lugano, the town that had stolen my heart but also I was leaving some of the most amazing people I had ever met; people that I didn’t know if I would ever see again.
In those three weeks, something changed inside me. I had found happiness that I thought I lost. I discovered myself 5,250 miles away from what I had always called home. Studying abroad that summer changed the way I saw the world and the way I saw myself. I am not the same person having seen the moon and stars on the other side of the world. I am not the same person after spending hundreds of Euros on a cab ride from Cinque Terre. But most importantly, I am not the same person after spending countless hours laughing with people whom I could be myself around. The thing about travel is, it makes us who we are. It shows us who we can be and just how much strength is inside us. It takes us out of our comfort zones, spins us around and we come out as a whole new person.
All photos in this article are courtesy of MeganKaileen Photography. You can view her portfolio at www.megankaileenphotography.com.