Alison Savage at the 2014 Picnic

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Alison Savage was awarded the first Speedwell AFS Study Abroad Scholarship and visited Iceland in 2007. She spoke at the Speedwell AFS Scholarship Picnic on August 4, 2014, thanking Jenny Messner for all the scholarships and addressing students about to start their year abroad.

I'm Alison Savage. I went to Warwick High School. I'm from Lititz, Pennsylvania. And as as Jane told you when I decided to study abroad during my Junior year, which was back in 2007. The Speedwell AFS Scholarship didn't exist in it's current iteration. There wasn't a picnic with a hundred people for me to go to. But, by some happy coincidence, it worked out and Jenny was able to offer me this amazing opportunity and she has been able to ensure that it's going to be around for many many more of you, for the years to come. And for that, I would like to give a whole lot of thank you!

I also want to tell you how excited I am to be here and how excited I am for all of you that you made this decision. The next year is going to be one of the most difficult years in your life, and I'm not kidding, but its also going to be one of the most exhilarating years of your life.

I have a few things I would like to share with you. I am not exactly sure if I can call them wisdom, but maybe more like empathy, because I have been in your shoes and I know what you may be feeling right now and I kind of know what you may be going through in the next year.

I didn't know I would be speaking today, until a few days ago, so I wrote this on the train this morning. I am overwhelmed but what I can tell you because there are so many things that I want to tell you. So I turned to some of my friends, who are other exchangers, who have gone abroad, and I asked them what they would have wanted to know when they were in your place and I got a lot of answers that were all fantastic.

They ranged from “don't have expectations,” “take a lot of pictures,” “write often,” “focus on the positive,” “take advantage of every opportunity and value today,” “embrace the awkward moments,” “don't be afraid of being an observer or an outsider,” “if it is hard, it is worth working for,” and “bring a sense of humor.”

So, that's all really great advice, but that is also a lot to remember. So as I try and think of a way to make it more digestible and break it down, a quote came to me.

But now it's time for a brief interlude, before I get to that quote, building dramatic tension...

Since I went to Iceland, a love of Nordic culture has stuck with me and currently I'm thinking about going to art school in Denmark and I'm learning Danish. One of the things I like to do when I am trying to learn a new language is to listen, watch pop culture, pop new media. It's one of the best ways to just hearing it, knowing what it sounds like, to what the verbal gestures are.

This show that I love, called Borgen, which I would highly recommend to all of you if you are into political dramas at all (It's on BBC, subtitles, don't be afraid). They start each show with a quote and one of the quotes, recently, really resonated with me and it's from the Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, and the quote is:

“Den der vover, mister fodfæste for en tid. Den der intet vover, mister sig selv”

Which means

“Those who dare lose their footing for a time. Those who do not dare, lose themselves.”

So that is what I advise you, to dare. I dare you to be present. I dare you to be sad, tired, frustrated, homesick, but go out anyway. I dare you to approach people at school. I dare you to stumble through a language who's grammar confounds you. I dare you to ask questions. I dare you to try something new and odd and crazy. I dare you to things you aren't sure if you are capable of doing. I dare you to say “Yes.” I dare you to laugh at your mistakes because there are going to be a lot of them.

But I also dare you to forgive yourself, your mistakes, and your misunderstandings and forgive those of others, because there are going to be a lot of these too.

And I dare you to value more than perfection. And finally, after thoroughly daring you for a year, I also dare you to come back home, which is sometimes the hardest part.

I have a lot of confidence in all of you, that you have the tools that you need to make this a successful experience, but I also know that sometimes we have trouble remembering that we have those tools. I advise you, when you hit a rough patch, a troubling patch, a confusing time, an amazing time, an exciting time, reach out to one another, to other exchangers, to returnees, and also listen if someone reaches out to you. Encourage one another, support one another, but most importantly, celebrate one another. Because what you are doing is really, truly amazing. You are daring together. Thank you.