Exactly five days ago, I packed my bags and left my sunny home in California to travel halfway across the world. As I arrived at the airport almost 10 hours later — surrounded by strangers speaking a language I couldn’t understand — it finally hit me that I was in my home for the next four months: Prague.
As my new Czech visa states, my name is Ankita, I’m a sophomore in NYU’s College of Arts and Sciences and I was born and brought up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although I knew even before coming to NYU that studying abroad would be a part of my college experience, I never imagined that I would be spending my semester in Prague. It’s not the place most people think of when they typically imagine a semester abroad in Europe, as is with more popular sites like Paris and London. But I wanted to put myself somewhere completely new, a place that would challenge me. I also wanted to go somewhere with a strong curriculum in my major, journalism, so Prague became the clear choice.
When I started NYU, moving to New York from across the country seemed like adventure enough for me, but it was worth it. I had spent two years making the city my home — finding friends, a job and extra-circulars that I loved. I was honestly skeptical — and a little scared — to leave that all behind and essentially have to do it all over again. But I know I wouldn’t have the life I do now if I had stayed in California, and I wouldn’t be able to experience the world if I stayed in New York.
“Why We Travel” and “On Anticipation” offer parallel yet diverging views on traveling to a new place. Iyer illustrates how traveling gives us freedom and anonymity, stripped of the labels we may have carried before, whereas Botton points out that even in a new place, we can’t escape our intrinsic selves.
I have experienced both of these feelings, even in the short week that I’ve been in the Czech Republic. There is a sort of excitement in walking the new cobblestone streets, with the knowledge that others do not know me, and therefore, I have the power to paint the picture of who I want to be. As Iyer said, I may even seem “mysterious” in this country with almost no other people who look like I do.
But no matter where I go, there are characteristics about me that will never change, even if they can’t be seen from the outside. I get nervous about having to make a new group of friends. I can get anxious about school. I often think of my friends and my family back home. Regardless of where I go, those things will always be with me.
But I think that being aware of these conflicting views will help me keep an open mind during my time abroad. While I can enjoy getting to know new people and places for the first time and being completely free, I can still stay grounded by the fact that I am still the same person in San Francisco or New York as I am here. I can stay tethered to the parts of myself that will never go away.
My first day in Prague was chilly, yet the sun managed to shine through the grey clouds that loomed through the sky. I walked across the Charles Bridge, breathing in the cool air with my phone turned off so I could fully experience the breathtaking view that lay before me. I wanted to see the city just for myself — without worrying about how I could validate my experience for other people. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. The castle-like buildings dripped of hundreds of years of history and maroon-colored architecture. The water was calm, the rays from the sun dancing off of its surface. It was magical.
What I’ve described is undoubtedly picturesque — a perfect memory illustrated in my mind. But as Botton cynically pointed out in “On Anticipation,” this is of course, not all that happened that day. My fingers felt a little numb in the freezing air. Huge crowds of people slowed down my walking. I was hungry and frustrated because I couldn’t decipher the Czech menus.
Both of these experiences were my reality that day. I think that for me to gain the most out of these next four months, I have to accept that these two realities will always co-exist, sometimes harmoniously, and sometimes not. So I’ve given myself just one goal, a goal that sounds simple in theory but might be much more complex to enact. I’m going to stop trying to create the picture that I have in my mind, and just let the journey take me. I just want to open my heart and my mind, and be completely free.