I stood looking over the edge. The ocean seemed so far away. I caught my breath and tried to squelch the nervousness rising in my throat.
“Three, two, one, JUMP!”
As much as I wanted to scream, “I’m not ready!,” I instead took a deep breath, bent my legs and sprang up and away from the jagged rock. I yelled as I dropped through the air and tried desperately to remember what to do with my arms and legs. I managed to force all but my left arm into a straight line the instant before impact. I plunged into the water—down, down…
With all my strength, I thrashed until my head popped above the surface into the sunshine. I could breathe—I was alive. My left arm stung, and my heart was pounding triple-time, but I was laughing. I heard “Bien hecho!” from my guide. I looked up at the cliffs above me with my compañeros cheering. I looked toward the lonely beach far away. I tried to picture myself floating in the vast ocean, a tiny dot in a postcard-perfect scene.
After surviving a hazardous swim over rocks at low tide, we arrived at the uninhabited beach and left our mark on the sand, “Portugal 2013.” With no camera to commemorate, the moment was somehow even more magical. We had preserved the secret of this natural wonder, and I added it to my list of European marvels that take my breath away, thanking God for being infinitely more creative than I could have imagined.
Cliff-jumping in Portugal has been one of the most incredible experiences of my semester abroad thus far and for me is also symbolic of the process of adjusting to a new culture. Just before leaving for Spain, I felt a rush of excitement and nervousness. I was physically and mentally prepared in theory, but in reality I had no idea what to expect once I stepped off the plane in Sevilla.
Ready or not, I had climbed on with strangers from my program and flew into the unknown. Three, two, one, JUMP! At first it seemed like I was falling: getting lost two blocks from home, struggling to understand the most basic Spanish phrases in the Andalusian accent and being pegged as a foreigner from kilometers away. The impact stung as I realized how completely out of my comfort zone I really was. However, as I seek to learn and to adapt, I have “surfaced” above helplessness and can’t help but thank God in wonder as I now participate in the incredibly rich culture around me.
There’s something about the challenges and marvels of living in a foreign country that takes my breath away as if I’ve jumped off a cliff. Sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m choking or enjoying a postcard scene, but what I know above all is that this experience abroad—so scary and so exhilarating—is so totally worth the journey. I think everyone should jump off a cliff once in a while.