The Value of Unplanned Experiences Abroad


Keeping an open mind to new experiences can help create great memories. (Courtesy of Instagram)

When the Fordham London Centre announced that the liberal arts weekend trip would be to Lille, France, I did not know what to expect. The small city in northern France was unfamiliar to me, but my excitement grew with the anticipation of exploring a new place with a group of new friends. As we pulled into the train station of this French city, I knew that we were gear- ing up to have an incredible, fun-filled weekend in a gorgeous, Parisian-lookalike city.

Immersed in French culture, I was able to learn more about sustainability efforts in Europe, which is a more popular movement here than in the United States. I tried tradition- al dishes from northern France and Belgium such as carbonnade flamande, a beef and beer stew. I strolled the idyllic streets of Lille, window shop- ping and absorbing the picturesque views. However, by far, the best experience I had during the trip was paddle board- ing one morning.

Let me set the scene for you. Myself and a group of four other intrepid travelers bundled up to brave the cloudy, 55-degree morning dedicated to water sports. We steeled our nerves over the potential of falling overboard into the chilly drink and climbed aboard. As we waded farther down the canal, our worries seemed to be for nothing. On shaky legs and with crossed fingers, we were all able to stand up and paddle down the tranquil waterway. The quiet streets flowed past us as we took in the morning.

Then, when all seemed to be going swimmingly, the flood-gates opened. In the span it took to cross underneath one side of a bridge to the other, it had started to pour. We all stood in the rainstorm, exchanging stunned looks about what to do and questioning our decision to not wear a rain jacket. We quickly made our way back to the bridge in a vain attempt to not get any more wet. As we crouched on our boards together, waiting out Mother Nature, the faint echoes of a song start to reverberate through the space. I glanced behind me to find one of my friends, standing in the pouring rain, singing “It’s Raining Men” as if it was a sunny day on the beach.

At this point all I, and everyone else being serenaded by Bradley, could do was laugh. Sometimes traveling does not always go as planned, but, in my experience, that makes for an even better story to tell when you get back. The cherry on top of the whole adventure was successfully making it back to the dock without anyone taking a dive into the water.

As we made our way back to the hotel after this laughter-soaked adventure, I could not help but reflect on the saying of valuing experiences more than things. Through this experience and others that I have been privileged enough to have, I find that I agree with this colloquialism more and more. Here are some other experiences that have become treasured memories since the start of this semester: going out dancing with people who have become close friends, spectating a football match, see- ing my first queer revisioning of Shakespeare’s works, trying my first traditional Sunday roast, touring the Harry Potter studios and watching the Queen’s funeral in Hyde Park.

Traveling requires a lot of flexibility which is not a quality that comes naturally for me (think more along the lines of making to-do lists for my to-do lists). However, sometimes things do not go as planned, no matter how many to-do lists you write. Weather happens, flights get canceled, you miss your exit on the train and watch as your destination whizzes past you. It’s easy to focus on all the things that went wrong, but I think it makes it more fun and memorable if you find something to laugh at or at least smile about. I now have a great story to tell about the time I went paddle board- ing in France in a downpour and I hope, by the end of this experience, I have many more just like that one to tell. I just have to remember to pack an umbrella next time.