I’ve always wondered what it is that pushes people to travel. I understand certain logistical reasons such as traveling for work, family, or study, but what about those individuals who manage to quit their jobs in inspired moments of utter spontaneity, become professional travel bloggers, and tour exotic locations for an infinite amount of time? I would conclude that there is an aspect inherent in traveling to new places, a certain intangible quality that attracts us and subsequently calls us to take planes, trains, and ships in pursuit of the ideal.
However, upon arrival the foreign may be less than ideal. It may be the opposite of ideal, in fact. With newness comes discomfort and an uneasiness about what lies ahead. Within that uneasiness, though, it is possible to unearth an underlying excitement that will embolden you to seek adventures that will then aid in the adjusting process. Striking a balance between the romanticized wanderlust of travel and the stark, perhaps unsettling, reality of being in a new and very different place is very difficult, and I’ll be the first to admit it. Yet, there is a way to figure out this balance and overcome the strangeness.
First things first: you’re here! You’ve arrived. You are currently in this very instant standing, blinking, and breathing in the very destination that you’ve been looking forward to reaching for so long. Some people (perhaps a good deal of people) never reach this point and would give a lot to go back to their college days and study abroad. My first recommendation to feel more at home is to simply go day by day. Take advantage of something new each day and in that way gradually familiarize yourself with your adoptive country. Day one could be sampling a new flavor of gelato, day two could be a small solo trip to a nearby sight, and then day thirty-five could be hang gliding through the lush Peruvian mountains; you’ll just have to see where your travels take you!
My second piece of advice is to take advantage of every single minute that you spend abroad. Not every moment is going to be a standing on top of the Eiffel Tower, riding on a camel through picturesque sand dunes, or sipping tea in Buckingham Palace with Her Royal Majesty rose-colored glass kind of moments. Living abroad requires sitting alone in laundromats, wandering confused in metro stations, standing frustrated in lines types of moments. Those who partake in brief trips with friends and family to foreign cities and return with glowing reports of all that they experienced have really only tasted the highs of the location and being there for an extended amount time is a completely different situation. However, those seemingly less rosy moments contribute to the trip just as much as the high ones and will increase in value when you return home and process the entire experience.
A fellow American who I met in Paris observed once how everyone that she knew from home seemed to be continually reiterating that she must simply be having the time of her life whereas her assessment of study abroad was slightly more nuanced. She agreed that she was taking part in life changing experiences, but that she definitely had sucky days too. Those types of days do arrive, but fortunately they pass quickly, and I was able to emerge from frustrations, confusion, and loneliness having learned more about myself, and being more confident in my abilities to navigate abroad independently.
If you would like to read about my adventures in Paris check out my personal blog at:
Middle Eastern Studies Minor
Institut Catholique de Paris, Paris, France (Spring 2015)