It has been a full year now since I jet out on an airplane to live in a foreign country abroad for a complete academic year. Before I had left I made a post called Reaching and Reflections. Here, I talked about what my hopes were at the time for this transitional period in my life and what I dreamed of happening while I was abroad. Some of the things I hoped and dreamed of did happen and came true. I could go on and on about these reflections of self growth and what not. But that is for a later time, right now I want to discuss something else I have noticed hindsight.
It seems as if the world has really fantasized the whole idea of living abroad. Whether it be from movies, TV shows, or a book series. It is as if there is an idealized vision of what it is like to be a traveler and to journey across the world. Now, I will be the first to admit right here and right now, that I am 100% contributing to this misconstrued concept that happens in American media today because of the ‘highlight reels’ of blog posts that I make along with the tens of billions of other travel and lifestyle bloggers who put in effort to glamorize it.
I guess I have this fear of looking as if I am ungrateful. If I at all talk about the negative things that I experienced while traveling. It will look as if I am some self-loathing pessimist that has taken her opportunities for granted. The love-hate relationship that I formed with Italy and my home-stay city. It is true that I had the time of my life in Europe because when else would I be able to simply travel the globe for 10 months straight with hardly any other responsibilities.
I suppose my blog posts turn out the way they do because I am generally a positive person and live with no regrets so when I look back on my adventures they do suddenly feel like highlights. With that said, if I am going to be fully honest I had this epiphany that travel is indeed glamorous…but, only in retrospect. However, it is during the “trying and adventuring” process that not many people talk about; all the trial and tribulations that go on. To pick up your life and run away and be free exploring the world could seem like anybody’s dream, but there are a lot of things that people really don’t talk about. For example;
It’s okay to have a love-hate (sometimes more hate) relationship with your “New Home” stay country.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel terrible saying anything bad about Italy because it is a rich and beautiful country. But the best explanation I once read about living abroad is that your love for your new adopted country is just like the love you have with a significant other. There is definitely a honey moon stage. In your first few weeks even months of settling in- the city’s imperfections and defects have yet to make an impression on you. Oh but in due time they undoubtably will come out and they will all of a sudden smack you in the face. Instantaneously out of nowhere you realize that you do not live in some perfect, magical, far away city..but that it, in fact, just like any other person or place it is also not perfect. It can be the lack the of daily home appliances like dryers or air conditioners to anything like the shortage of ethnically diverse food options when it comes to eating out that will get to you.
I think it became clear to me in the first two months that my body had already had enough bread, pizza, and pasta to last for the next 10 months (and this is coming from a girl who thought she loved carbs.)
So…you get past that honeymoon stage. No one tells you that you will get mad, you will get frustrated you might even, dare I say, hate…your new country from time to time. Not only do you learn the flaws within, but you experience the pure exasperation of just trying to get every day tasks done. You start wishing you could just climb into your car on your own time and drive to a Target or Walgreens and get everything that you need in one stop, and at least you would know what every word on the labels mean. Instead, you have to figure out the bus schedule for a bus that won’t even come on time, just to travel to five different stores to “attempt” to ask for one type of ingredient, or medicine, you are looking for just to find out that that country doesn’t even sell it…no where..in the whole country!
Now, having said that, I do realize the value in all of this. There is a genuine feeling of accomplishment when you figure out how to do something that once frustrated you. You gain a sense of achievement when you can say a new phrase. I was so proud when my family came to visit me abroad and I could order my food out at a restaurant in all Italian. This is something that I wouldn’t be so proud of back in the states. Speaking of pride, learning how to overcome the challenge of these everyday tasks does force you to put aside your pride and ask for help. I am an extremely independent person but I would find myself asking for help daily, this is really how I learned. It would be remarkably humbling when somebody was enthusiastic to help you and sometimes would not only explain things but would walk with you through the process, or make sure you got to where you needed to go.
I gained a different sense of human connection that I never really had before.
I realized though, that again, just like with a significant other you can’t keep your feelings all bottled up. It seemed like all of the people that I was living and studying with completely loved their experience. Some of those people even said they felt like they truly belonged in Italy where I didn’t feel that at all. I would feel bad to say anything opposing about the place we were staying in though because I didn’t want to take away from their experience. It wasn’t until I was out sharing conversations and a few pints with my roommates when we ran into a couple other classmates of ours. I was having a conversation with one of these classmates, after feeling the pints going through my bloodstream for quiet awhile, I happened to blurt out a recent frustration I had been having with Italy.
At first, I held my breathe worried that I would just sound like I was complaining and should apologize for what I was saying when, much to my dismay, she felt the same way. A feeling of relief came over me that she too wasn’t completely obsessed with this place at all times. We continued to vent a little but then went on to talk about the things we do enjoy about living there. Sometimes you just need to vent. I did and still do have a deep love for Italy and I know that is proven when I was allowed to complain about the place I was in but continued on to appreciate it and never once thought about booking a one way ticket back home. It’s when you start to become bitter and form a hatred for a place that makes you think you should move back home.
I guess what I am trying to summarize is exactly what Whitney Cox states in her one-stop Indie Travel guide called, Boots ‘n All,
“A lot of people philosophize about the Peter Pan appeal of traveling—about regression to a childlike state of wonder and freedom. We can all see the appeal of traveling back to a time when everything was thrilling and new. But if a vacation is an escape to the magic of childhood, then living abroad is a visit to the pangs of adolescence. Welcome to the purgatory between young recklessness and adult competency! Unlike tourists, you are charged with errands and chores; unlike locals, you have no idea how to accomplish anything on your to-do list.
But once you get past the growing pains, and start learning how to take care of yourself in unfamiliar territory, you get to experience the magic of actually growing up. It’s a world of implicit triumphs and it’ll-be-funny-later humiliations.”
Ultimately, this post is dedicated to the purgatory between young recklessness and adult competency because this is just something that I feel like nobody talks about with traveling.