The second act of the spring semester of junior year has reached climaxes on more than one occasion. I keep saying it, but it is true, the amount of milestones that are happening, one after the other, is simply remarkable.

So much self-growth. Not that academics do not matter, they do, however, the lessons I have learned traveling either with friends or on my own are priceless. About friendships, life, appreciation, all of it and its feelings, such things are unattainable through books. Only experiencing it can your mind mature and develop and understand things that often people talk about, but you do not know what they are referring to.

For me, I have learned how to be more self-sufficient, making sure that I take care of every aspect of my life. That I cook nutritious meals that keep me balanced and in good health as a vegan, making sure I purchase toilet paper, paper towels, soap and that I keep the refrigerator stocked. Making sure that I clean the apartment where I live, which includes washing the toilet, washing dishes, sweeping, and mopping plus doing laundry. I need to keep track of my finances and to spend wisely, all of it for the sake of keeping everything working organically.

I have come to appreciate this little Brandeis program that even though it has its logistics’ flaws. The people I have been able to meet and bond have made all the difference. We have created diverse experiences, plenty of inside jokes, everything make this experience unique.

I remember the last time I wrote, I was dealing with housing issues (I am still sort of dealing with them, but in a different way). The five of us were able to find a quaint house about ten minutes away from campus. It is very spacious and the rooms are huge, all for a better price than on campus housing. It is comical, though, that after getting the house, we found out that we, indeed, could have gotten a good housing option on campus for us five. However, looking in retrospect, I believe that living on campus would only serve us to unlearn everything we have learned while abroad. It would be a different and positive experience I am sure, and maybe it was just meant to be this way. Hence, zero regrets.

In terms of traveling, after I finished with one of my classes at Leiden University, I flew straight to Barcelona, where I had perhaps one of the best experiences, then flew over to Lisbon in Portugal and then the island of Ibiza for spring break. I learned from all this traveling that the world isn’t the way you imagine. Prior to coming to Europe, I had the misconception that we often have about places far and unknown to us. I had the misconception that everyone was well off and that the opportunities here are as great as the ones I happen to stumble upon back in the US. However, not all Europe is dirty rich and there is no welfare for exactly everyone. The quality of life, essentially is better than in many other places on Earth, perhaps better than in many places in the US—specially places outside of main populous cities—but I am still a very lucky individual, nonetheless. To be able to be here, writing this blog entry in the Netherlands, a country that is so safe and beautiful and has so much to offer. And to be able to study here and have an internship at the International Criminal Court (ICC), and to have the chance to travel around. I’ve also gone to Budapest, Hungary; Moscow, Russia; and I plan on going to Istanbul, Turkey; three cities in Italy, Prague, Czech Republic; and Oslo, Norway. To do such travels with people I love, my friends. To forge those relationships and to learn from the experiences and being capable of reflecting upon it all in a happy way, it is precious. I find myself always in the need to count my blessings, lately more so. I need to. There is so much privilege in doing everything that I am doing.

I got to go to Russia on my own and it was a trip that I will never forget just because I had to figure out everything on my own. I was able to set aside the politics of the country and its history and see a more humane quality in its center. The people were candid and able to help regardless of my non-Russian skills. I was definitely very out of my comfort zone, but once I conquered my fear, did everything I wanted to do in my time there, and was able to return home, safe and sound, I realized that I do love traveling and that it is something I would like to do for the rest of my life, if I can. Though, I am aware I need to take advantage of being here because I do not know the twists and turns that life can take, and I very much do not know when I’ll be able to hop on a plane again to see the world much after I return to the New York. I do not want to regret anything, so I pack my bag and travel.

The life-lessons, I hope to carry for the rest of my life and life’s realizations are countless. Being able to learn that law is not the path for me. Realizing that I am much more interested in international relations… this all happened on a trip to Brussels, Belgium, when we went to visit the European Parliament and started to talk more about the relations among the 28 different countries that are part of the EU. Some of the conflicts that the EU is currently facing, such as Brexit and Catalonia’s long-yearned independence. I remember at some point, everyone around me was about to fall out of their chair like wilted flowers in the cold winter. I am surmising this was the cause of how boring the conference was to some of them. But I remember being very engaged and that is when I discovered that in reality, I am much more invested in international issues and diplomacy and not so much international criminal law.

A remaining month or so lies ahead of this experience, and I am trying to make the best of it as it comes to an end. Nevertheless, I am also eager and excited to go back home. To see my parents and to live in New York City once again. My father always says that the best part about a trip is “coming back home.” Being here is great, but there is something about being surrounded by complete familiarity that allows you to feel different, I hope you know or understand the sensation I am feeling.

That’s all for now,

Santiago Montoya