When I arrived in Poland in August 2012, it was my first time being abroad on my own. Since graduating college, I had been looking for cheap opportunities to travel and volunteer on Idealist, and I found one that suited all of my needs: Poland, teaching English, meeting new people, cheap. In return for conversing with Polish professionals for close to 12 hours a day, I was given free accommodation and three meals a day. I went there to do a week-long volunteer English seminar, and was planning on doing sensible touristy things (i.e. go to museums, on tours, and eat in restaurants). I had saved money for these purposes, and felt no shame in spending close to $30 (kind of a lot in Polish Zlaty) on souvenirs for me and my family. For the first few days, I did this and actually enjoyed it; I learned a lot about the land where my ancestors came from, and had some of the best pierogies I’ve ever tasted. I was perfectly content walking around Warszawa by day and lying in my comfy hotel bed at night. I felt safe.
On the third day, however, my life changed forever: I met a guy who had spent the past few months hitchhiking around Europe. “You’re absolutely out of your mind! Don’t you know what can happen to you? People will kidnap you for ransom then chop you to pieces with an axe!”, I remember saying. And I fully believed it…at the time.
After teaching English for a week, and hearing all of my participants’ and co-volunteers’ stories about traveling, I started to think that maybe I wasn’t ready to go back to the U.S.; I didn’t verbalize it, but the thought had always been there. I had always lived a fairly stable and sensible lifestyle, but, ever since I can remember, I’ve had the desire to do more, see more, live more. Did I really need to work a 9-5 five days a week with two vacation weeks per year? Did I really need to do everything the conventional way, like most people do? Did I want to live with the, “What if”s and regret? It felt like this guy that I’d met was giving me the opportunity to jump, but I was too scared of all the bad things that could happen. I had just graduated university, and had the loan monster close on my ass; I had just signed a lease for a new apartment in Boston; I had been hardcore job searching so that I could start my career and leave the position that I had hated for the past few years; I had my friends, my family, my dog, my whole world safe and sound in the U.S.. I loved my 13 days in Poland, but it was time to go back to my “real” life. Consequently, I bid him (and Poland) farewell and took my taxi to Warszawa Chopin Airport, feeling a whole mix of emotions.
To this day, I don’t know what came over me. Maybe it was the hangover from the farewell night with our Polish friends the night before. Maybe it was the overwhelming sadness of leaving when I hadn’t seen everything that I wanted. Maybe it was the advice that he had given me regarding my own happiness and fulfillment, “Why don’t you try to say ‘Yes’ more”. As I was handing my bag to the attendant to be checked, I hesitated. “No, I’m sorry. Could I have it back, please?” I hardly heard the words coming out of my mouth, but the next thing I knew, I was walking to the special assistance counter to change my flight.
After a series of luck- meeting an American man who let me use his phone for half an hour and called his friend to drive me back to where I needed to go- I found myself looking for my British guy in the Warszawa Centralna Station. After the initial shock and hugs, he only had one question to ask me: “Are you ready?”.