THE BLOG
08/18/2014 03:18 pm ET Updated Oct 18, 2014

Lessons from Mbale

About two months ago, I left my home in Maryland to travel to Mbale, Uganda to work for a start-up microfinance organization. Although my family is originally from Africa, I had never travelled there before.

I've always imagined the summer before my senior year of college would be spent in New York City interning for a huge marketing firm. I realize now that my decision to volunteer abroad was a bold first step in learning to follow my heart.

Before I left, several of my family and friends dissuaded me from going.

"I would never do it," they told me.

Even though their words made me uneasy, I booked the flight and in early June found myself sitting on a plane waiting anxiously for what was to come.

In retrospect, was it easy? No. I'll never forget the afternoons spent in darkness due to power outages or the mornings I turned on the faucet only to watch murky brown water pour out. Without a doubt, there were nights I longed for the comforts of home.

Yet, I've found that it's only been in moments where I've taken huge leaps that I've truly discovered myself.

Did I leave Uganda with a clear idea of who I want to be? Not exactly. My eyesight is blurrier than ever.

Do I know what I want to do after graduation? Not at all. Couldn't be anymore confused. Am I right, Class of '15, or am I right?

If anything, this summer taught me a thing or two about courage. The courage to follow one's own heart and intuition is what led me to go abroad in the first place. When I finally learned to move past initial discomforts, I found I really loved Uganda. It's that assertion that makes me feel more brave and ready for the "real world" than ever.

It's not about how great the challenge ahead is or in my case, how "different" a country, its practices, or its people may seem from you. It's about how you respond to it.

I think that lesson is worth carrying forward.

I don't know what my last year of college will bring, but I know now to approach everything with arms wide open.