By Christina Whiting
When she was 16 years old, Molly Bowen spent a year in the Netherlands as part of an American Field Service program. Now, at 18, she is heading to Italy as part of New York University’s Liberal Studies Core Program.
“I had the option to choose from London, Paris or Florence,” Bowen explained. “I had already been to Paris, and couldn’t see myself living there. In London, everyone speaks English and I really want to learn another language”
That left Florence.
Homer born and raised, Bowen will leave Alaska on Aug. 10. She has never been to Italy, but credits her experience traveling to and living in the Netherlands as giving her the courage to set off on her own once more.
In 2012, Bowen spent her junior year living with a host family in the town of Bergschenhoek — on the outskirts of Rotterdam — with a population of 20,000. She attended a Dutch school, took Dutch classes, made friends and immersed herself in the Dutch culture.
She found the language barrier difficult for the first few months, but once she made friends, the transition became easier.
“After living there for six months, one day while riding the bus with my Dutch friends, we were all talking and laughing,” Bowen explained. “When we realized that I understood their jokes, that was a huge moment for all of us.”
Bowen found the people to be kind and was especially grateful for the friends she made who were always looking for something fun to do. She also enjoyed the excitement of being able to travel to a different country in 30 minutes.
“My friends laughed when I told them it takes five hours just to get to Anchorage,” she said.
Bowen said she also loved the anonymity that living in the city afforded her.
“At school, I was the American girl, but in the city, no one knew me,” she said. “In Homer, you go to the store and see 20 people you know …”
Throughout her youth, Bowen and her family have traveled in the United States on holidays, but never abroad. Parents Doug and Janet encouraged their youngest daughter to go abroad for a year and return to Homer for her senior year.
“It just seemed like a wonderful opportunity for Molly to step out of our small town and into the big world and into a different culture,” Janet said.
Bowen’s older sister Maddie visited her in the Netherlands and the two traveled through the Netherlands, as well as to Paris and Belgium together.
“By living in the Netherlands, I learned there is so much more to the country than just windmills, Amsterdam and to-die-for cheese,” she said. “My experience can’t be summed up in a sentence, nor a book, however, what I will remember most will be the kindhearted and curious people I met while abroad.”
Bowen found the lifestyle to be fun and freeing. When she returned home last year, she enrolled in the Connections Home School program for her senior year, took college classes for two semesters at Kachemak Bay Campus and began looking at studying and traveling abroad once she graduated this spring.
“I wanted to go back to Europe as soon as possible and not lose touch with my friends,” she said. “Homer is wonderful in so many ways, but living abroad is what appeals to me right now.”
Bowen is grateful for her Homer upbringing, her job at Captain’s Coffee that has allowed her to save money and help fund her travels, for being surrounded by the natural beauty of the area and the support of her family, friends and community.
“Everyone here knows me and there’s comfort in that,” she said.
Bowen said she has never been to Italy, and is excited to venture out again into the unknown.
“I can’t imagine where I’m going and I love that element of surprise,” she said. “I’m excited and have no idea what I’m getting into.”
In Florence, she will stay in dorms at the NYC campus on a 57-acre estate comprising olive groves, gardens and villas.
Bowen will attend New York University’s Liberal Studies Core Program, spending the first of the two-year program in Italy and the second year at NYU in New York City. The program’s goal is to immerse students in a different setting, small classes and participate in field trips. Bowen views this program as a jumpstart to see what path she may take further down the road.
“I don’t have a long-term plan, just that I know I want to do something where I travel a lot,” she said. “That’s how I see myself; not staying in one place for more than a few years.”
Bowen encourages other youth to seek opportunities outside their hometown, whether in another city in the United States or abroad.
“It’s easy to get stuck and not want to leave your comfort zone,” she said. “It takes courage and is scary, and that first step can be hard to take, but it’s worth it in the end. Going anywhere and seeing a different life, meeting new people and seeing all the cool things out there is exciting.”
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