My first European flight, 7 hours to Iceland and another 3 on to Hamburg, was nothing out of the ordinary. Slightly cramped legroom, small free beverage, the oh-so-sweet aroma of recycled plane air. Oh, and of course, the heavy burden of silent social obligation.

I’ve always felt I’m the perfect middle seat passenger. I’m small and quiet and never even use the restroom. (Probably a negative sign about my water intake, so I’ve been told.) But maybe that’s not always a good thing.

As we emerged frizzy-haired and empty-bellied from our redeye, my two traveling companions buzzed about what friendly world travelers they sat next to. I had only attempted to make conversation once with the young woman to my right and when her response was curt, I abandoned any efforts. The man to my left was stoic and big-boned in the way that spilled him across the imaginary boundaries of our seats. A bit intimidated by his stature and rapid German, I didn’t even attempt to connect over a mutual fondness for crosswords and Words with Friends.

Plane portal awash in soft orange sunset. View departing from DIA at sunset, crossing the Atlantic ocean. Darkness falls on Icelandair flight.

I do not self-identify as meek. So why, when uncomfortable, do I sometimes retreat into this persona? While I’m sure each reader has their own diagnosis, I am looking forward to nurturing more confidence during my trip. There are so many different kinds of confidence: in our abilities, appearance, talents, personality, heritage, actions, the list is endless. All compounded by an unfortunate reality – it is so very difficult to perceive ourselves accurately.

Man overlooks countryside of hometown - Hamburg, Germany.

A peaceful conversation during which names did not constitute identity. “Pensive German man overlooking hometown” was defined by thoughtful questions, kindly allowing his wife to doze on his shoulder for 3 hours, and a remarkable ability to speedread.

The next flight, I convinced myself that my seat 2 feet across from the toilet was the best seat on the plane. I introduced myself to the German couple next to me. I insisted on receiving a free newspaper, contrary to my flight attendant’s equally stubborn opinion that a copy in Icelandic would be of no use to me. It doesn’t even matter whether it was the mindfulness or a slice of pizza snagged between flights, a good attitude and self-care are both important.

Living the very average struggles of study abroad has already pushed my boundaries. I thoroughly understand why it’s called luggage and envy the genius of European trains while being simultaneously overwhelmed by a rapidfire procession of stops whose names I could never accurately repeat. Throw in a good 20 minutes of adapter/outlet confusion, and all I’m missing is the lovely woe of traveler’s illness, surely to come. My bus to Bremerhaven leaves in 8 short hours, so my shipboard first impressions will come l̶i̶v̶e̶ post-dated from Barcelona. Auf Wiedersehen!