Things I Wish My Younger Self Knew- Lesson 1

Things I Wish My Younger Self Knew- Lesson 1

A few weeks ago, I began writing a letter to my younger self about lessons I have learned. It is filled with things I wish I had known when I was younger. It is full of the wisdom I have gained from life experiences. Rather than share the letter, I have chosen to focus on the lessons. Over the next few weeks, I will share those lessons within this blog space.

Embarking on an adventure

When I was sixteen, I boarded a plane for Portugal to live with a family I did not know in a country I knew very little about. I left all I knew, all I loved, and all that was comfortable to go on an adventure as an exchange student.

I knew I wanted to do this since I was eight years old.  My parents had suggested the opportunity to an older sibling, and they declined. I recall my eight-year-old self saying, “When I am old enough, I want to go.”

During my sophomore year in high school, I attended a meeting, and from the minute I sat down, I was sure I wanted to study abroad for a whole school year- not a summer or a semester.

Eight months later, mixed emotions filled me when I boarded the plane to set off to this unknown territory.  Cell phones did not exist yet, and I knew Airmail would be the primary form of communication with my family. I knew I would miss everything I loved about home- the celebrations, the holidays, the trips, the family dinners, the friendships, and so much more. But I also knew an adventure awaited me, one that would make a huge impact and difference in my young life. However, nobody could prepare me for the daily homesickness that would fill my heart.

As soon as I arrived in Lisbon, I spent a few days with the organization and the other students before joining my host family. When it came time to leave the comfort zone of those new friends and all I knew of America, I learned that I needed to travel eight hours by bus to the northern part of the country where my host family was vacationing.

The Bus Ride

MY CHEST FILLED WITH FEAR when I entered the bus the following day. I realized how terrified I was to take this eight-hour solo bus trip to an unknown place in an unfamiliar country with little knowledge of the language. It was the longest day of my life.

I slunk down in my seat and prayed that I would arrive safely at my destination. I just wanted to wrap myself in the cocoon of my heart and hope my transformation in this new land would begin.

I sat in the seat surrounded by the loud, joyous Portuguese conversation. I tried to catch a word I learned in my short orientation in Lisbon the days before, but it all zipped by, and I felt more and more lost in this foreign bus that traveled north along the two-lane roads.  My eyes would peek outside of my window on occasion, and the beauty of the countryside calmed my nerves. The lull of the movement of the bus finally allowed me to sleep.

Gentle Kindness

I remember waking up to a tiny older Portuguese woman gently shaking my shoulder and speaking sweetly into my ear. I could not comprehend her words, but I could understand her heart and kindness. We had stopped, and she wanted to ensure I ate something. With a smile, she handed me a homemade sandwich.

Shortly after, when the bus continued on its journey, I looked at the road signs, hoping to see the name of the town where my family was awaiting my arrival. I looked at the time and knew we must be getting close to the stop, but how could I tell? At the next stop, I ran up to the bus driver, pointing to the destination on my ticket. Worried I missed my stop, I asked him desperately in English if we had. He gave me a blank stare and nodded. My heart dropped. Did he shake his head because we did pass it, or did he not understand me?

From behind me, I heard a voice say in English, “Can I help you?” My body instantly relaxed, and I turned to my lifesaver behind me. “Yes!” I said. “ Did we pass Castelo Branco?” And he answered with the best response of the day, “No, not yet. We will be there soon.” “Thank you!” I whispered through my tears.

I finally arrived safely at my destination, and my host family was waiting on the side of the road, ready to meet me and begin our life together.

We see you

Reflecting on that day, I realized everyone on the bus was watching out for me. They knew I was a young foreigner traveling through the country to an unknown place.

I learned something about humanity that day. I recognize some people will take care of you. Some people see you and watch out for you. Kindness comes from the heart; people will be there to help when someone is in need. In the end, there is goodness that exists in the world. I noticed that I had arrived in a country where people looked out for each other.

My wonderful experience began this way, creating an everlasting image of the beauty of human kindness. 

When I think about this moment, I contemplate what I wish my younger self knew then.

What would I tell my younger self?

Letter to Younger Self

Dear younger self, 

See people. 

Meet them where they are and get to know them. 

Learn from them.  

Connect with them. 

Share yourself. 

When in a new environment, take advantage of what you can learn, who you can meet, and what they can teach you. 

Travel the world and learn from new people and new cultures. Find the beauty in the kindness that exists around you. 

Don’t be afraid to talk to new people and learn about them. In every new environment, there is an opportunity to grow, learn and share our authentic selves. 

Life is a learning journey. Meet new people. Expand your horizons and gain wisdom.

The world is our classroom, and people are our greatest teachers.


  1. Theresa on October 31, 2023 at 1:53 pm

    This is so beautiful! You were so brave as a young adult, and grew through your experience!

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