by Andrea Rodgers
In late 2001, when I was 13 years old and on an international assignment to Australia with my family, I was called a “refugee” by another student as he held the door closed so I could not enter the canteen (the Australian term for school cafeteria). His parents did not want him in classes with an American. Far from turning me off to travel, this intrigued my teenaged mind. I was made aware that not everyone in the post-9/11 world felt sympathetic towards the United States and its citizens for becoming the victims of terrorist attacks. Here was a boy who felt profoundly that he did not want to associate with me for being an American. I was shocked such a person existed.
My experience in Australia gave me confidence to later seek out a college experience that was truly the right “fit” for me, regardless of location. After much self-reflection, it unfolded that I went to college a fifteen-hour drive away from my hometown and the support system to which I was accustomed. I knew no one at Purdue University the day I showed up to move in, had never been to a Midwestern state, and it was the one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
In December 2013, my affinity for new experiences provided for another unforgettable opportunity. I asked my boss, who was located in my company’s London office, if I could work there for a month. My boyfriend was studying abroad there. Yes, I know it’s a strict unwritten rule not to write “boyfriend” in an admissions essay, but please don’t reject me for this faux pas. It is a necessary part of this story as I did not want you to think that I am so irresponsible as to go wandering around Europe alone as a young female tourist. My trip fell on the Christmas holidays so that, along with all the vacation days I had left, meant we could “explore” for 2 solid weeks.
I had no idea where I wanted to go. I’d never been to the UK or “the continent” as the British refer to mainland Europe. I was in Australia the years that my peers in the US focused on geography, so I lacked even the basic knowledge of where cities were or how far London was from historic sites that I’ve only ever heard and read about. Four days before Christmas, I had a rental car, an international credit card and no plan to speak of.
The trip started in Stonehenge because, by all accounts, you have to see Stonehenge at least once. After that, we drove. No offence to the ancient druids (Stonehenge really was awesome) but it was about to get shown up. The drive I embarked upon took me to London, Paris, and Rome, all in under two weeks, making stops at Vézelay Abbey, the Pont-Saint-Martin bridge, Milan, Florence, Genoa, Monte Carlo, Laon, and Amiens.
Driving through Europe, by the way, is not at all economical; it is potentially the worst way to travel and see the sites of Europe. Nonetheless, I thoroughly recommend it. How else will you be able to decide the Parisians are not being receptive enough to your Christmas spirit (wishing someone a “Joyeux Noël” is almost never reciprocated) and take off for Vézelay Abbey, a church you once read about somewhere in some text book, and experience the unlikely result of attending a two-and-a half-hour Christmas mass in French in a church with no electricity (freezing in December) that also apparently is home to a small bat colony? You can meet some German road-trippers on the French Riviera and test out your two years of high school German classes while watching New Year’s fireworks on the Mediterranean Sea in Monte Carlo. You can accidentally leave the lights on your rental car while napping at a rest area in France, get trapped inside the car (shockingly no manual override from the inside), and have to figure out what the French version of “9-1-1” is.
That trip brought me to the conclusion that the world is not as overwhelmingly unconquerable as I once imagined it to be. You can get from London to Paris and Rome and back in a couple weeks. More important than that realization, I saw that there is so much in the world that needs doing. As an able-bodied and able-minded person, I feel a drive and a responsibility to be a contributor in doing those things. Returning to school at Texas A&M to further develop my skills is hopefully the next step in my journey toward making a real contribution and I hope that you, whomever may be reading this, grant me that opportunity.