I’ve got a piece of paper sitting in front of me that feels like it was written a lifetime ago. It is my old “Semester Goals” assignment for PGS, and it’s a study in changed plans.
My original travel goals were comprised almost entirely of places I did not get to visit. I did not spend Easter at the Vatican. I didn’t see the cliff monastaries of Meteora, take an overnight train anywhere, or order mint tea in Morocco as planned. I certainly didn’t become proficient in Italian, as my grammatically oblivious past self had hoped. If I’d based the success of this program off these original goals, this trip could easily have been classified as a failure.
However, I know, going in, that a loose outline of travel goals that were more “oh, that’d be nice” than “if I don’t go here I will cry” were actually more likely to lead to success. I do not regret missing any of these places, because I substituted in an entirely different selection of amazing experiences for them instead. Who knew, for instance, that I’d find myself traveling through Eastern Europe for spring break? Or that I’d walk through a rainforest canopy in Ghana? Or that I’d tour a nuclear power plant — an impossible experience in the US due to security restrictions — that was the oldest facility of its kind in the world? I would never have been able to predict that I’d hike Mount Vesuvius, visit the LHC at CERN, or tour a Cold War fallout shelter in Budapest? A willingness to play along and be flexible with my plans did nothing but serve me well this semester.
Of the two things that were most important on this old list, I had a 50% success rate. I did make it back to Berlin, which I’d promised myself I’d do since my first visit two years ago. Come hell or high water, I was going to spend some time there again — and I did. (It was every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped, although perhaps a little colder than anticipated.) I did not, to my thorough disappointment, make it up to Augsburg to see some of my relatives. It wasn’t for lack of effort. End-of-the-semester chaos and an illness meant that a trip that was already late in the term couldn’t be pushed back any further, and with a flight schedule that can’t be altered (thanks, StudentUniverse) I’ll have to head home before I get the chance to see them. There’s always next time. I certainly hope that next time will mean soon.
Here’s the thing about travel with PGS. No matter what you go in expecting, you will probably be wrong. And that’s okay. You’re gonna go places you couldn’t even dream about. It sounds hyperbolic, but whether it’s standing on the porch of your apartment watching the clouds roll down Mt. Tamoro, eating the best pizza of your life in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the shadow of a volcano, or watching a squadron of flying foxes take to the air and blot out the African sun, you’ve got a surreal and distinctly awesome time coming your way. To anyone looking to join this program in the future, try not to sweat the altered plans. They’re a necessary part of the process, and they’ll take you to amazing places too. Wherever it is that you wind up on your journey, , it is going to be the adventure of a lifetime.