In the Blink of an Eye


Isabel Arias P, 2019 Alumnus

There is a pretty famous phrase that adults say all the time “Appreciate what you have before it turns into what you had,” making children aware of the ephemeral. I’ve always considered myself a conscious being of how fast life can change, which I guess is something that can happen when losing a parent so young. Life’s biggest lessons are indeed taught through experience. Therefore, if somebody were to ask me what I would share with the younger generations about life, I would start by explaining the importance of welcoming all emotions brought by pivotal moments, from euphoria all the way to sorrow, the “stopping and taking it all in,” and the patience regarding the future. Today I am 20 years old, but a long way from feeling like an adult, even though I am considered one. At the same time, when I take a minute to look back at my life, I see a little girl that once upon a time thought milestones like graduating high school were lightyears away, and now I’m a second-year medical student.

The Columbus School offered me a unique experience where I feel I graduated as an exemplary student ready to participate in the academic world as a college student and graduated as an honest, caring, and respectful human being. After 14 years of routine-like academic life that, in one way or another, as part of society, we are put through, one of the happiest moments in my life was when I realized I wanted to become a doctor. If you ask me, I would not be able to tell you the exact moment, or why exactly I want to become one, and to be honest, it is one of the most complicated questions anyone can ask a med student; it’s just something that one knows, or at least that’s how it happened for me. It’s no secret that medical school is one of the most time-consuming careers in existence which drove me to make the best decisions I’ve ever made, taking a gap semester.

Three months before receiving my high school diploma, I evaluated my future and realized I wanted a break before starting medical school. I decided to take the gap semester and pronounced Florence, Italy, as my home for five months, biased by a group of friends. Already knowing portuguese as a third language, I figured a 4th one would be a cool achievement in a six-month vacation while living in one of the world’s most beautiful countries. I was lucky to have my family give me a trip for graduation where I got to know many cities and later find myself alone on my new apartment’s doorstep, right on downtown Florence. Because I decided to live an “independent life,” I didn’t get the family-house package deal but rented a room in a vintage apartment instead, where I had to go grocery shopping, clean, cook and do my own laundry. My Polish apartment-mate was amazing and helped me settle pretty quickly. Each morning I attended Italian lessons for four hours and started taking fashion design classes some afternoons. I walked all around the city and took the weekends to get to know Florence and Italy as much as I could. I visited Rome, Milan, Chianti, several small Italian towns, Verona, Amalfi coast, Venice, etc. I was very aware of my luck in living those experiences and tried to take it in as much as possible, enjoy every second, get to know everyone, and do everything I could.

Some things in life just add up to make big things happen for you, things that otherwise wouldn’t have. In October 2019, my tenant had a mix-up with the lease and by November, I was out of my apartment. A friend from high school living in Florence took me in for two weeks, where I was obligated to analyze whether I wanted to find another apartment or leave. By that time, I had finished my Italian and fashion design lessons- nothing was tying me to Florence anymore. In the midst of not wanting to be completely unoccupied for the remainder of my time in Europe, I decided to flee. One afternoon in the cold beginning of winter, the first week of November, I bought a bus ticket to Milan where I would catch a plane to Luxembourg to meet my cousin with no further plans. Once I arrived, I got to be a tourist in beautiful Luxembourg with my cousin as my guide. Two days later, as he had to work and return to his everyday adult life, I had an impulse to start a “backpacking” trip, a very spontaneous one, around Europe, and get to know the cities I hadn’t had the opportunity of visiting before. 

That Sunday morning I bought bus tickets to Prague, leaving my massive luggage in my cousin’s apartment only taking my carry-on with me. The bus departed at 11 pm and took a whole 12 hours to get to Prague, in which I chose the hostel I was going to stay. I was alone, “backpacking” with a purple carry-on in Europe with a budget to maintain. I shared my room with seven strangers. Although it was my first time in a hostel, my experience was excellent. I spent an average of two days per city as I figured out pretty quickly that the tourist checklists ran out fast as an independent traveler in winter. My destinations and hostels were arranged hours in advance, all adding to the experience and making it 100 times more unforgettable. After Prague, I went to Budapest, then Vienna, took a night train to Zurich, then went to Strasburg, and made some friends who took me in their car back to Luxembourg, where I picked my luggage and took a plane to Portugal. Portugal was by far one of the best places I’ve been to. I stayed almost a week then took a bus to Barcelona, and three days later arrived in Madrid facing my return. 

In retrospect, a domino effect of events resulted in the best experience of my life. For instance, there were hard times, having to sleep in Madrid’s airport on top of my luggage the last night because a protest left me without a bed. But when I got to a Christmas market or stood in the highest part of a city and enjoyed the view, I always stopped and took it all in and felt extremely lucky. I arrived on December 9th as a surprise to my family by knocking on my doorstep in Medellin. In the blink of an eye, I’m a third-semester student in the middle of a pandemic, part of the neuroscience seminar of CES University, and joyful of being in the process of materializing my dream of becoming a doctor.