December 15, 2017

Student travels solo across 22 countries in Europe

Webster University international relations major Olivia Potter traveled to 22 countries while studying abroad last year. For Potter, the journey was a learning experience, but also an adventurous one.

Potter’s journey started in late June 2016 in Hague, the Netherlands, the first stop of a summer’s worth of backpacking alone across Europe. She dyed her hair twice, platinum blonde in one country and hot pink in another. She ate like a queen in Poland because it was cheap, but struggled to pay for McDonald’s in Switzerland.

Backpacking lasted until late August, when Potter’s semester in Vienna began. Throughout the semester, she continued her travel. Right before the finals week, she spent a weekend traveling to London, Edinburgh and Paris and rushed straight back to the classroom with her suitcase. Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 3.36.58 PM

Potter also did not forget to bring surprises home. She went skydiving at Interlaken, Switzerland around Thanksgiving. Her gift to her family was a video of her jumping out of a helicopter.

The journey came to an end in mid-January 2017. Potter boarded a plane home and moved straight to East Hall.

“School started and here I am,” Potter said. “It’s still unreal to me.”

Complete dedication

One of the reasons Potter chose to attend Webster was for the study abroad program. She said she was eager to have the opportunity to travel.

In order to fulfill more, Potter carefully planned her budget with her financial aid advisor Melissa Hogan.

“I was very impressed, not only by her excitement in her plans, but how she always remained kind, patient and followed through always,” Hogan said.

Potter needed more money. She started turning to fundraising to make her dream a reality. She even sold her car.

Potter held an Applebee’s Night where she collected 15 percent of payments from customers who came in with her flyer. Potter said the manager was hesitant at first but was shocked and impressed with the outcome.

“I went door-to-door [to give out flyers] for two weeks in my neighborhood,” Potter said.

For people who showed up at the Applebee’s Night, Potter kept their addresses and sent postcards back to thank them during her travel. She lost count after 300 cards.

Unexpected friends

Potter lived on a tight budget and stayed in hostels and shared accommodations during her travel. Her initial anxiety of sharing personal spaces faded when she was able to make new friends on her travels.

Olivia Potter dyed her hair while traveling.

Olivia Potter dyed her hair while traveling. OLIVIA POTTER/Contributed Photo

During her stay in Warsaw, Poland, Potter won bets over people she met in a bar while watching the European Cup. Those bets would later help pay for her meals.

Potter felt welcomed that people yelled out “we have an American girl in the house” for her at a concert in Germany when the band was playing “American Girl.”

Potter also met an opera singer touring in Latvia also from St. Louis while enjoying herself at a bar in Liepaja, Latvia. They are now friends on Facebook.

Potter said she still talks to some of the friends she made on a daily basis.

“You can’t replace that,” Potter said.

Growing confidence 

Having never traveled abroad before and having so much in mind made Potter nervous before leaving. Her study abroad advisor Nicholas Hall helped plan her trip and encouraged her to go for it.

“I’d like to think I helped to lay the foundations for all she did, but a vast majority of her planning and traveling was through her own research, ambition, and grit,” Hall said.

Looking back, Potter felt a sense of accomplishment from the trip that no barrier stopped her.

“I just felt that as long as you put your mind to something, you can achieve anything,” Potter said.

Potter kept texting with her best friends while abroad. Morgan Schneider and Potter have been friends for nine years.

“I was in the middle of feeling absolutely terrified for her and also very happy and proud of her,” Schneider said. “I know that’s what she wanted to do and I knew she would be the one who could do it. She is strong, smart, independent, and a little bit crazy.”

For Potter, not being able to speak the language was not always bad. Traveling alone and keeping her mouth shut, Potter said she was able to “blend in” and “observe more” because people could not always tell that she was a foreigner.

Potter made sure she always kept important information on a notebook so that she can point to people for directions. She even had experience talking to Uber drivers back and forth through Google Translate.

“There was never a moment when I was frustrated and intimidated because I didn’t speak the language,” Potter said. “I found that as long as you made the effort, someone will always be willing to try to communicate with you.”

Potter said she has no regrets with the experience because she felt she lived every moment.

“I never felt like I was in a strange land that things are so foreign and so different,” Potter said. “It felt so right. . . I can’t wait to go back and travel more.”

For stories and photos of her travels, visit her blog at www.trialsandtulips.com.

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  • Sean T. Burris

    Wow Olivia, you are so lucky to have friends and family who supported you through all this. You are so fearless and brave – I can only strive to be as cool as you. Don’t listen to your friend Morgan, you are not crazy, just awesome!