Traveling isn’t always easy. Worth it, yes. Easy, no. When I arrived, I was exhausted. The jet lag mixed with the tiniest differences that shouldn’t have tired me, but did, physically and mentally wore me out. A small part of me would whisper ‘what’s wrong with you’ when I spent an hour watching Modern Family instead of being out in the city drinking sangria. So why do it? I actually got asked this question in a variety of ways and sometimes it was hard to come up with a reason. I couldn’t always put in words why I had to do it, but deep down I knew I had to do it.
The days were filled with new and exciting events- from the big picture, observing cultural love languages to the smallest things, like why are all of the light switches different here? But that doesn’t mean that the days didn’t have their stressors. A day in the city where every little social interaction could go horribly wrong or make you feel horribly stupid was, well, stressful. So, duh, right? Well yes, but the thing that I got from it is (and no I’m not going to say laugh at yourself although, true.) is that it is good to be scared. It’s good to be afraid. Because in these situations was when I got out of my comfort zone. I put a new (both cultural and personal) lens to my own behavior. Getting out of your comfort zone while in a new location and when you don’t really have much of a choice makes it a whole lot easier when you’re back home. I realized I had to just bite the bullet with so many little things because I was traveling solo. I had no choice to just opt out of doing some things. I couldn’t just not try my awful broken Spanish to ask a lady to get to the nearest metro stop. I couldn’t just not wash my clothes because the European machines were different than the ones back home (how exactly does one work a drier that opens from the top and has a trapdoor!?). It got to be exciting too, mostly because it’s so freeing to not be held back by fear. That freedom mixed well with the humor in how awful some of the situations turned out because it opened me up to the ~whimsical~ anything can happen mindset.
My point here is that traveling can make you a better version of yourself. You wake up, not defeated by another monotonous too early alarm (youch, it’s Tuesday again?), and want to go out to try something new. A new store, restaurant, sport- the thing itself doesn’t really matter. It’s that you want to do something new. And while doing this, I was so afraid of falling into the uneducated, arrogant, and selfish American stereotype that I did everything in my power to avoid it. So, there I was, out, trying new things. I performed a balancing act of being young, stupid, and carefree all while analyzing every little action I did. In the States, I jaywalk all the time. In Spain, I felt the need to go to the crosswalk and usually waited for the passenger symbol for my time to cross so that I wasn’t that American. I tried to say yes to every opportunity that came my way. I changed the way I talked to people my age; this was especially evident when I tried explaining the culture of cigarette smoking to one of my host brothers. I packed cuter outfits. So, when out in the world, being a better you is just fun.
Traveling is real life. To me, one of the biggest beauties of traveling is that you can be completely removed from a situation and then return with a renewed mindset. For me, I can have a hard time incorporating my time away into my time at home. In Spain, I usually had the day free to go see the city- museums, parks, coffee shops, and the like and then return back to the flat for English lessons. Back at school, my days are filled with studying, naps, working out, and going to the grocery. When a switch is completely flipped, I struggle to not view a certain time away as surreal. I keep telling myself that yes, that actually happened. I try to work on bringing what I learned about myself and other people and that inexplicable travel groove I was in into my time at home.
It’s easy for people for people to slip into this alternate persona when traveling. I fully support the notion, but we need to try to not slip right out when the plane lands to get back home. I don’t know why this matters so much to me- the idea that people have mundane, real-life selves and then exotic, travel selves. I think it matters to me because what some people can do with this-this idea of traveling, is what I do with the future. It really is too easy of a trap to fall into. The “I’ll be more adventurous when I’m away and trying to pay bills” quickly translates to “I’ll be much happier when I’m not stressed with school and have a paying job with a loving family.” And that’s what I want to get away from. I think one of the reasons I love to travel and explore is because every minute is like hey this is your life.
I know that everyone has a different experience abroad. I was incredibly lucky during my time as a language assistant in Spain. I had a more than wonderful host family with a strong support system back home. I just wanted to share some thoughts about my journey in hopes that you’re a little better off because of it.