When I was a little girl, the best presents I would receive were from my grandmother. My chest would cinch with anticipation as I spotted one of her coveted parcels lying in the doorway. Inside would be a portal to another world: Matryoshka dolls from Russia, cheongsams from China, and Hamsa amulets from Israel. Stories from her travels captivated me, and as I grew older my curiosities grew into an insatiable hunger. I adorned my walls with zodiac calendars and Egyptian hieroglyphics; I read books upon books about travel and history. I longed to explore, yet the world remained unseen.
Year after year I would bring up Europe to my parents, hinting unobtrusively, and then be denied every time. I knew I was still too young and too vulnerable, so I relegated myself to waiting. I waited patiently until my freshman year of high school, when I was finally old enough to qualify for the school trip. I came to my parents after school with a thick stack of glossy papers in my hands, ready to strike a deal. And thus, a deal was struck: If I maintained a perfect GPA and raised enough money to pay for my ticket, they would let me travel to Europe in my junior year. I instantly became worried. It was a hefty challenge; the trip cost $4,000. Yet, instead of buckling under the pressure, I became invigorated.
I started to work more diligently than ever before. I took the hardest AP classes and put in extra weekend hours at work. Every time I soaked my apron with dirty dish water or spent hours reviewing the intricacies of redox reactions, I thought of the elusive city of Prague, hewn in stone and solidified in dusty light.
Finally, the time came where I had worked enough hours and saved enough money to board the plane. The following twelve days were some of the most exhilarating and rewarding of my life. Prague, Venice, Salzburg and Vienna — the world that my grandmother had sent in paper packages sprung to life before me. It was pure bliss to stand in the spots that I had been dreaming about since I was a little girl, and it was even better to do so with friends. I was captivated by the subtle idiosyncrasies that I noticed around me. Whether it was the dreary irony of seeing a venerated statue of Woodrow Wilson just blocks away from the old Prague Communist Party headquarters, or listening to my Austrian tour guide berate the downfalls of the modern European welfare state, travel introduced me to a world of culture and diversity that I had long been craving.
As I boarded the plane to go home I got comfy in my seat, stretched my legs out, and smiled to myself. Even though my first adventure had ended, I knew I would spend the rest of my life seeking out more.
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