Study abroad, path of self discovery

I have been in Europe for a little over a month now. Somehow, I’m torn between feeling like I’ve been here for ages and feeling like I’ve only been here for about half a second. Either way, every day has been a learning experience, whether I’m discovering new things about myself, about the town I live in now or about the world. I’ve documented my time here through this column, a personal journal and social media, because I don’t want to forget about all the amazing opportunities I’ve had, but also, I don’t want to forget what I’ve learned while I’ve been here.

That said, here are some habits I’ve picked up that I would like to take back to the U.S. with me.

TRAVELING

I’ve always had an ache to travel the world, but before studying abroad, it was all too easy to find reasons not to travel. Maybe it wasn’t financially wise or it would take too much time or it was simply too inconvenient. Being in Europe has completely changed the way I look at traveling. I had no problem hopping on a bus for 8 hours and dropping several hundred dollars for a couple days in Budapest. My spring break trip has already cost me about half of my savings and I
haven’t even left yet. Yes, traveling can be expensive. Yes, traveling in Europe works a little differently than it does in the United States, but by the time I return home, I’ll have seen more countries than I have states, and that is a strange realization.

When I get back to America, I am going to stop making excuses for traveling. Part of seeing the world includes seeing my own country.

COOKING

I am no cuisine master. Last semester, I gave myself food poisoning, if that tells you anything about my culinary prowess. That said, I do not cook myself elaborate meals. Mostly pasta, grilled cheese or eggs. Even still, I’ve realized there is something incredibly satisfying in cooking for myself. Making myself an edible meal gives me a sense of capability that I’ve been lacking big-time recently. This is something I definitely need to remember when I’m back in the States, because it’s never a bad thing to feel accomplished in life, even if it’s caused by something as basic as noodles and canned marinara sauce.

TRYING NEW FOODS

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: My German skills are mediocre, and that might be a generous estimation. Thus, when I go to restaurants, I can only read about half of the menu, which means I rarely know what I’m ordering. Instead of turning to
Google translate for every word, I’ve learned to just order and hope for the best, and so far, that technique has worked out for me pretty well. I still find myself saying, “I’m nervous because I don’t know if I’ll like this dish.” I’ve realized when that thought prances through my head, it means I need to take the plunge and order it. I never noticed how much I liked to stay under my food security blanket until it was no longer there, and quite frankly, dining out is absolutely more exciting when there’s a little bit of mystery thrown into the mix.

RESISTING IMPULSE PURCHASES

I really love to buy things. Nothing brings me greater joy than a bout of retail therapy. It’s a problem, I’m aware. However, studying abroad has helped me stave off my compulsion to buy everything that tickles my fancy. The thing is, I already
brought far too much luggage when I came here—try carrying three suitcases and a backpack through the airport and on to a train and through an unfamiliar town, I dare you. Actually, I do not recommend it. At all. I’m traumatized by the experience! So, every time I pick something up in a store and get ready to swipe my card, I imagine having to get it back home. It has occurred to me that most of the things I buy here, I’m either going to have to find a way to take back with me or throw it away before I leave. Those kinds of logistics make retail therapy a little less therapeutic. I’ve learned to think through my purchases and determine how necessary they really are, which is a habit I do not want to conveniently forget when I am back in the U.S.

So far, my time abroad has been a whirlwind, and while I miss a lot of things and people in America, I know this is where I need to be, because there is still so much I have left to learn.