I'll never forget my first trip to Asheville, NC. It was spring break of my freshmen year at Clemson University, and I had arranged to spend a few days with my parents in this town nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains. I'd heard great things about Asheville - incredibly specific sentiments such as "it's amazing you have to go there" - so we booked a hotel and researched no further.
This would turn out to be one of the most important trips of my life. I was 18 at the time, and lost in all sorts of typical college emotional chaos - homesick from living outside of Ohio for the first time, struggling to make meaningful friendships, and stressed about my major and what to do with my life. But as I walked down Asheville's Lexington Ave - through eclectic boutiques selling tie-dyed tshirts and goat's milk soaps, past shop windows filled with the kaleidoscopic light of star-shaped paper lanterns - I forgot about all of that. Somewhere between sipping matcha at Dobra Teahouse and getting lost in the tall dusty stacks of novels at Malaprop's Bookstore, I let go of the pain and the anxiety I had been harboring. I felt myself swell as the weight of my burdensome emotions was lifted off of me. I felt luminous and unimpeded; I felt free.
In that moment, I fell in love with visiting new places, with immersing myself in an unfamiliar environment and seeing how I respond. It is because of this trip to Asheville, and the several return trips I would make throughout my time at Clemson, that I began slowly, subconsciously seeking out new experiences and geographic locations. Over the next few years, I would further explore my southeastern surroundings, visit friends in New York City, spend summers interning in Charlotte and Seattle, travel across Europe, and eventually move to Denver where I currently live.
Through it all, I have held on to that feeling of freedom, the adventure of adapting to new surroundings, the lightness that comes with getting lost. I hold on to it in the hope that it never leaves me. I hold on to it so I don't forget the importance of seeking novel experiences and unconventional situations, of altering my perspective and analyzing my assumptions. I hold on to it so I will always challenge myself to explore and expand.
Thank you, Asheville.