As a part of the requirements for graduating (from my home university), every student must take a writing proficiency test and course. Last year, since my advisor told me to get it over with, I took the test. The prompt I was given was probably one of the most interesting prompts I have ever had, one that I continue to look back on and think about. It was simply; “Describe or talk about a minor incident that turned into a defining moment in your life”.

When I was in fifth grade I visited my Dad on three day weekends at his apartment in Citrus Heights. He spoiled us: buying sugar cereals we were never allowed at home, Chef Boy-ar-dee, a rare luxury, and always a can of chunky clam chowder for me because that was my favorite. As part of spending quality time together, we always rented a couple movies and played monopoly at the kitchen table. One of the movies we rented was “Mary-Kate and Ashley: Passport to Paris”. That was the minor incident.

It was that weekend that I decided I was going to go to Paris. Funny enough, I used to get homesick when I was at my dad’s house, but I still wanted to leave the country and get as far away from home as I could. I also knew that day was a long way away, but it lo-and-behold, I could not stop thinking about Paris, and it became somewhat of a dream.

During that same year, my sister’s friends were studying abroad in England. I thought that was one of the coolest things I had ever heard, and soon my dream developed. Study abroad; that was how I was going to get to Paris! That dream grew and expanded as my teacher, Mr. Park, told us that we should all, one day, travel alone- go to another country, see who we meet, and be independent. Well, the alone part scared me, but the seeing a new country part I found intriguing. I knew in fifth grade that I was going to leave home when I got to college.

In middle school, I got the opportunity to go to Costa Rica. I had opened up my first bank account when I was little when I had asked Santa for my life savings for Christmas, and got it. On Christmas morning, I opened a gold box and inside was one hundred, $1 bills. I started saving. I didn’t know for what- but by the time I was 12 years old, I had $730 dollars in my account. A couple of science teachers, Miss Carter and Miss Rivers, who taught at my school decided to take a group of twenty students to Costa Rica for a summer trip; 10 days long. When I heard about it, I lit up inside. I don’t ever remember being so excited for anything in my life up to that point. I went home and told my mom about the sea turtles, the white water rafting and the zip-lining over the rainforest. San Jose, California, to San Jose Costa Rica- what an opportunity. The only snag was that the trip cost over $2000. I only had $730. When I mentioned the price to my mom- she smiled and said “Abby, you’ve sold me on this trip- we’ll find a way to get you to Costa Rica.” I don’t think that spark of light in my heart ever went away. Through a little bit of hard work and determination, my mom and my dad and I were able to get me on that plane. That was when my dream changed. I wasn’t just going to go to and see Paris someday, I was going to go and see the world.

That idea of being a world traveler never left. I took every school trip I could, and traveled with the water polo team as much as possible. I told my mom once that I was going to study abroad; she asked me where I would spend that one semester if given the chance. One semester? Mom, I am going for a year. I told her like it was obvious- like one semester was hardly an option. When I got to senior year of high school, with Paris in mind, I only applied to schools that had a study abroad program on campus. That was the deciding factor for me. Not location, not class ratings, or what major programs they had, and not student population. Study abroad. I was going to do it.

When I got to college- the excitement put my dream on the backburner for a bit. I had hardly thought about study abroad at all- even though it had frequented my thoughts all through middle and high school. However, during my first winter term, I was waiting outside of and English class when I noticed a wall full of study abroad pamphlets- all for different countries, I took one of each- there were 27. I could not tell you what happened in class that day, but I can tell you that when I read the brochure on France, my heart fell. You needed to have 2 years of French in order to qualify for the program. My school didn’t offer French. However, there was another pamphlet in the stack that caught my attention in a very subtle but lingering way; Ghana. For weeks I tried to find summer courses at Junior Colleges where I could learn some French and qualify for the French program. No luck. French professors are hard to find, so French classes are hard to find. However, far from being heartbroken, my dream shifted; somewhere in my frustrating search for French classes, I became more and more drawn to and set on Ghana. Not France.

What was it about Ghana that caught my attention? My mom had a friend that was from Ghana, and she had given Hannah some really cool designer evening gowns. I liked her, and I loved hanging out with their family when I was little. Ghana was a country that I had heard of, and even if it was distant, I had some kind of connection to it. All of a sudden, Ghana was all I could think about. I read the program description about power sometimes being out, Malaria being somewhat of a problem, and personal theft being more likely there than in other countries, and I was sold. ‘What an adventure,’ I thought. Ghana would be drastically different than the states; when would I ever have a chance to immerse myself in a culture for such a long time? When would I ever have an opportunity like “Ghana” again? The “extremely different lifestyle than in the states” clause got my heart pumping, fast.

However, the “alone” part of the trip started to sink in. I had never traveled alone. I was scared to take local transportation alone…what would I do in Africa alone? The alone part scared me when I was 10- the alone part was still just as scary to a college sophomore. I tried to get my friends to apply with me-but they decided against it for various reasons. The being gone part was starting to scare me too. Zade hadn’t been born all that long ago; I was going to miss him so much. And my new college friends; what if they didn’t like me when I got home- I couldn’t fathom losing them- especially on top of losing Zade who would surely forget me. Suddenly, this dream that had been developing since I was 10 was starting to frighten me, more than I could have foreseen. Was this really what I wanted?

I am lucky to have the Mom that I do. She told me to just do it. To stop being ridiculous. Go ahead and apply, She and Zade, and all of my friends will still be there when I got home, and that should be the least of my worries. There was no reason to pass up this opportunity for that. It still took me six months to fill out the application…for the semester program. My mom, being as wonderful as she is, said “Abby, why are you only going for a semester? Go for a year.”

This brought up even more questions. Zade would definitely forget me if I left for a year; there was only a chance that he would forget me if I left for a semester. My friends really wouldn’t want to hang out with me after I had been gone that long. What about Christmas? Thanksgiving? No, I know I said I would go for a year when I was younger- but I didn’t know what that really meant, and now I think it would be too long. Too much. Too…unbelievably scary. Then she told me to stop questioning everything- I of course would still be able to come home for Christmas; but leave while I still can.

After that, I started looking into a second semester in a different country. New Zealand sang to me in a different way than Ghana; I heard it was gorgeous, and friendly, and not to mention the number of extreme sports they have. I was sold once again. I was going to go to Ghana for the culture, and New Zealand for the adrenaline rush. Despite my wanting to become a world traveler, I did hold off on New Zealand for a while. I liked the idea of New Zealand, but gosh an entire year? Packing up and leaving for that long? That’s a long time.

When I finally got my acceptance for the Ghana program, I cried. The only other time I had cried out of happiness was when I held Zade for the first time. Not much can compare to that. But Ghana? Ghana almost did. I decided when I was 10 that I would study abroad, and now it was happening. I made it happen. It was the first long term dream that I ever had, and I acted on it. I worked for it. With my Mom’s help, I went against everything my head tried to tell me could go wrong, and followed my heart. My semester in Ghana was 10 years in the making.

At this point, I still didn’t know if New Zealand would ever happen. It wasn’t until I was in Ghana that I decided to actually apply- but whether I would get there was another matter. A whole year. It still weighed heavy on my mind. I loved Ghana, but it was so far away from home, and not just in distance. I questioned it- I told friends in Ghana about it. I am not lying when I say; the decision to go to New Zealand took just as much courage as the one to leave in the first place. When I got my acceptance to the New Zealand program- that spell of happiness went over me again; I wasn’t in tears- but I knew I had been given quite the opportunity. I bought my plane tickets about five minutes later. I was going. I really was going for a year.

Little did I know, the year of being abroad goes by really fast, and now will be up soon. I can’t believe that a year ago now I was sending in visa applications. I can’t believe I was nervous about leaving. My mom was right- Zade didn’t forget me. He ran right up to me and gave me a huge hug when I got off that first plane; and now, in New Zealand, he skypes me regularly. And my college friends- they were all there to welcome me home from Ghana, and Alyssa has made plans to come see me the night I get back from New Zealand. We’re going to live together next year. She still loves me.

This story, to me, kind of feels like a fairy tale. Maybe not one with a prince, and fancy balls, and horse drawn carriages; but, my dream came true- isn’t that what fairy tales are really about? Following your heart, and accomplishing its deepest desires? In the last year, I have been to 5 countries; 7 if you include airports, and 8 if you include the states. I have finally seen a small part of the world.  I even got my happy ending- going home to a family that still loves me, and friends that still want me. I will never again complain that I am not a part of a Disney fairy tale- because I’m living one, and it’s even better because it’s my own; and it is not by any means over. I still intend on making it to Paris; and a few other places as well.

The best part was; I was never alone. I may have boarded the plane alone, but my mom was still there; she still had my back. She would be there in an instant if I needed her. And there were times when I did need her; and she really was always there for me. I also made tons of friends who were there, and my home friends were just a click of the mouse away. It was silly to ever think I would be truly alone.

Today I leave. This chapter is over. This dream fulfilled, and it’s time for a new one. A part of me does not want it to end- who would? Its been a good dream. When I travel; I feel independent, I feel like I am a part of something important, I am learning more than school could ever teach me- and every step is a little less frightening and a little more inspiring.

My mom has suggested that I apply for an internship in Uganda, where I can write about the incredible women that were benefited by an organization called Bead for Life. The idea still scares me- but I am going to apply; and I am not sure a year ago, I would have believed that I had it in me. Now, I feel like this could be my new dream. My way to go back to Africa, and to be a part of something big. Something important. Something worthwhile. Something that could make a difference. But for now, I’m coming home.

I’m coming home.

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