A Journey of Love & Self – Three Months in Ukraine

I sat down on an antique floral couch in the corner of a cozy cafe. I was in Olomouc, a small city in the Czech Republic on day five of my nine day Thanksgiving journey to visit friends in four countries. My body sunk into the couch, worn from sleepless hostel nights and aching from carrying a 20-pound backpack for ten miles a day. I had eaten rice cakes, bananas, and granola bars for three-quarters of my meals. I did laundry in the sink. I navigated public transport across borders. I slept in a room with strangers from around the world. I got lost and turned down the wrong streets.

In those quiet moments, the ones waiting for the bus to the next country, the ones walking in the silence of the early mornings in an unfamiliar city, and the ones drinking a cappuccino in a quaint local cafe…those moments, they struck me. The juxtaposition of the excitement of traveling to a new place and the stark simplicity of drinking the same coffee I do anywhere in the world. I could’ve been anywhere.

In that moment, I found myself thinking about my life abroad. I had been living in Ukraine for three months. I started this journey with a broken heart and uncertainty about my decision to come here. Over the course of the last few months, I healed, I laughed, I made new friends, and I traveled to places that were previously just a dot on a map. Yet what struck me as I drank that coffee was that I struggled. I struggled greatly on the journey towards pursuing this dream. I struggled in the silent moments after a long day of living in a foreign country where people see you as an “American” and not you, after an interaction at the market where I couldn’t understand Russian or Ukrainian, frustrated that I didn’t study either in University, after going to Mass and feeling empty week after week, after failing to find a balance each day between my personal and professional life, and after wondering if what I left behind was worth the pursuit of what I have here.

As I sat in that cafe, the pure beauty of being present absorbed me. I smiled and caught myself dreaming of all the other places I wanted to travel to, of all the things I wanted to do when I returned to Ukraine, of all the ideas I wanted to bring to fruition. I didn’t think of the friendships I missed, of the lost moments I’d never get back with my elder father, of the comfort and stability of having an American job in my field. Instead I let my mind wander to what only exists in the depths of my heart, the part of me very few people understand. Despite all the struggles and questions of self, my biggest dream was still to travel this world, to do exactly what I was doing and more.

A few weeks ago, I told my friend just that: my biggest goal was to travel and write, something I’ve said since living abroad for the first time in 2015. He asked me, “Then why don’t you?”. How simple his response was. I spent the rest of the day pondering his question. Why don’t we do the things we dream of? The things that keep us up at night? The things that make us fall in love? Why don’t I pack my bags, pick a destination, and go? Why don’t I lead my life by the simple rule of allowing the beauty of what I love to be exactly what I do?

No matter how hard the struggle is, let us always allow the beauty of what we love to be exactly what we do.