When I was in high school, I had several foreign language choices: Latin, French, Spanish, Chinese or Russian.
I always thought that I might become a lawyer. So I put Latin first, believing that exposure to the ancient language would help me in law school.
I can’t remember what my second choice was.
My third choice, I know, was Russian. I know this because I later found out that if you listed Russian first, you got Russian. Second, Russian. Even third, Russian.
So there I was on the first day of high school listening to Mr. George Morris, speak to us in a very foreign tongue. He wrote on the chalkboard in a different alphabet, the Cyrillic one.
I ended up studying Russian for seven years. Not because I loved the language but simply because I had so much invested in it. I joined the Russian club and I even went to Russian camp – a camp where Mr. Morris rented out a facility in Union, Missouri, and you had to speak nothing but Russian for 7 days.
As it turns out, this time period could not have been a better time to learn about Russia and the Soviet Union as the Communist regime was coming to an end. The Cold War was waning and the nations of Eastern Europe were taking small steps towards democracy.
I mention all this as an introduction to one of my greatest regrets.
In the summer between my sophomore and junior year, Mr. Morris wrote a letter to my entire Russian class. He had learned of a semester-long program in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. This program was a language immersion program where participants would study the Serbo-Croatian-Bosnian culture and language overseas in Yugoslavia.
It wasn’t Russian (heck, they didn’t even use the Cyrillic alphabet in Yugoslavia) but it was close enough.
I remember studying that letter for a long, long time. Part of me really wanted to go. Over the next few days, I pulled the letter out of my desk drawer several times and read through it again.
Ultimately, I took the safe route and stayed in America. I continued the traditional path and didn’t take the risk of studying abroad.
I feared the possibility. I was afraid of what might happen. I took the safe, predictable route.
Who knows what I would have seen, what experiences I would have had and whom I might have met?
I was only 16 years old, so I am not going to be too hard on myself. Everything happens for a reason and I love my life now exactly as it is.
But I did decide – long after I threw the invitation to Yugoslavia in the trash – that I didn’t want to fear the possibilities any more.
Now, for today, I follow the advice of Mr. Steve Winwood that while you see a chance, you take it.