How Traveling Abroad Helped Me Explore My World and Myself

"To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life." -- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, James Thurber

As teenagers, most of us will have an experience or moment in our lives when something just seems to click, and we suddenly seem to have an understanding of what we want to do, who our real friends are, etc. This event can be happy or sad, frustrating or cathartic, or even something absolutely amazing.

For me, this experience happened when I traveled abroad for the first time.

In late June, following my graduation from high school, I had the opportunity and privilege to travel to Germany for a week. Accompanied by eight of my friends from high school and armed with a backpack, iPod, camera, journal and copy of The Fault in Our Stars, I had no idea what to expect from the journey.

This week-long trip, however, came to be one of the most enlightening and eye-opening experiences of my life.

One of the main things that I discovered on this trip is to embrace the age-old adage of carpe diem, seize the day, even if what you're doing requires extra effort or makes you uncomfortable. As a mentor of mine has always said, "get comfortable being uncomfortable." In other words, go outside your comfort zone, whether that means trying something new or interacting with new people. If I hadn't maintained this mentality on the trip, I would not have had nearly an as amazing experience as I did, and I would not have made new friends with students from other high school groups with which I was traveling.

I began my trip lost in Berlin and eventually found myself in the midst of the towering baroque buildings of Dresden. I explored the quaint medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber and visited the former site of the Dachau concentration camp, where I shared an emotional moment with my friends as we realized the gruesome reality of the horrors committed there. These truly enlightening moments that created an experience like nothing I'd had before brought me closer to my friends, and helped me forge new friendships.

This journey is how I learned that it's important to open up and interact with new people -- even if you already have your old friends with you. While it may sound odd to want to interact with people you don't know more than with people you do know, making new friends can greatly enhance any experience in your life, whether it be at school or while traveling.

My trip, however, was not just defined by the new friends I made or by the carpe diem ideas like a challenging hike to the top of a mountain overlooking Neuschwanstein Castle (the inspiration for Cinderella's Castle). It was defined by what I learned about myself.

Throughout high school, especially in my freshman and sophomore years, I heavily struggled with self-confidence. I was shy and generally didn't think myself capable of accomplishing anything great. However, as time went on and I discovered an outstanding group of friends that I have to this day, my lack of self-confidence began to disappear, and I began to try new things and take on more responsibilities.

For me, my trip to Germany served as the culmination of this long journey of building up my confidence. Between meeting new people, wandering around foreign cities on my own, and talking to people in a language different than my native English, this trip made me realize that I was capable and mature enough to accomplish great things, even if that great thing may just be making friends with another person on the tour bus. Thus, I finally cemented the confidence that I had been trying to establish for so long.

As one bit of advice for anyone who travels abroad or has a significant event in their life, don't obsess over getting photos of every moment to share on Instagram or Snapchat, as tempting as it might be. Just live in the moment, and enjoy the remarkable event for what it is.