By Kendra Kintz
I didn’t plan on studying abroad when I came to college; in fact, it wasn’t until my junior year that I realized how badly I wanted to travel and see the world. After reblogging hundreds of pictures of European architecture on my tumblr, it was time that I put my computer down and actually ventured out into the world and experienced these places for myself.
I ended up spending five weeks in Ireland last summer, where I took two classes on Irish culture and fell in love with the entire country. Ireland is every bit the fairytale-idyllic land it is made out to be, in my opinion. Honestly, I could go on and on about the scenery, the live music, the pubs, the excursions, the classes, and my host family – all of which were equally outstanding and perfect, but I will save the Ireland Appreciation Blog for another time. I want to talk about how valuable it was to live out of a backpack for 5 weeks while traveling in countries I had only ever dreamed about visiting, which I did as soon as my time in Ireland came to an end. The first destination was Amsterdam, and then my only agenda was to fly home from London 5 weeks later (just over 10 weeks abroad total); everything else was planned on a weekly or daily basis, and my main concern was making sure I had a place to stay every night.
To say backpacking was educational would be a massive understatement. You don’t realize how much you can learn outside of a classroom until you’re immersed in another culture where you don’t speak the language, have to navigate from trains to hostels, manage finances in five different currencies, make sure you can feed yourself, and simultaneously realize that you are thousands of miles from home trying to take care of yourself in a place where no one knows who you are. It is such a vivid, invigorating experience waking up and having no agenda other than to explore places you have never been before and see the world from a completely new perspective.
I will spare you the details about the dozens of bed bug bites, the Pink Lady (self-titled) who only spoke French and was about 110 years old running a very, very shady hostel in Nice, France, and how finding a place with a functioning shower was like winning the lottery. You start to appreciate where you’re from when you are removed from everything you know. I learned how little I need to actually be happy, and how great it is to interact with people with vastly different backgrounds than me.
It is difficult to convey just how much I learned from traveling on my own in foreign countries. There are only so many blogs and articles you can read to prepare for international travel, and though there were a few great pieces of advice I received before I left, so much of what I learned was from my raw experience.
With that, I want to share something from my personal tumblr that I wrote while I was away. So many people encouraged me to go on this trip and were so happy that I was able to do this that I wanted to come up with a way to share my experiences with them. Again, trying to summarize everything from last summer and how wonderful it was is an impossible task, so here is just a little insight I came up with on my travels:
“I went bungee jumping last night for a final adrenaline rush on my last day in Interlaken. There ended up being a thunder and lightning storm in between jumps, but when it was my turn it was just drizzling until the bottom when I was pulled into a row boat. At that point it was pouring hard and I was in a t shirt and jean shorts but it was like an adrenaline filled version of the Notebook scene (row boat and pouring rain, minus the Ryan Gosling sadly). It was so surreal I couldn’t help laughing at the craziness. The jump was about 450 feet, over a lake so we jumped out of a cable car that went up some wire and hovered above the water. Soul Meets Body by Death Cab came on right before my jump and I wasn’t even surprised because the timing of things on this trip, especially songs, has just been eerie.
It is getting harder to formulate what I have learned because I just have a constant stream of thoughts flowing through my head every day but I am gonna try to sum up a couple for now:
Firstly, and this has been reinforced constantly by switching cultures and countries all the time, but simply do not judge anyone for any reason. What is socially acceptable literally changes from country to country, city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood… There is no correct way to do anything; only what is perceived as correct in your perspective based on your accumulation of morals, values, and what you deem appropriate behaviors in your own mind. What other people do is their business. It is completely acceptable to be curious, but don’t make negative assumptions about them. You have no idea what makes them happy! Also, celebrate the differences! I know it’s been said but where is the fun in a world where everyone is the same as you? People cannot actually want that. I don’t understand why we are all so critical when it comes to people being different than us when diversity is what makes everything so great anyway.
Sort of with that, I think it is unfair of anyone to expect anything from anyone else. You project your own version of someone when you interact with them – it is always biased to your world and your mindset. Live and let live. Let people be whoever they are without trying to change them. Find people you enjoy being around because you already love who they are. Do not be angry with someone for not presenting themselves as the way you have created them to be in your mind; remember that only you know yourself, others only know their projection of you, and you only know your projection of others.
Along with knowing yourself comes how you feel about yourself. I saw a quote recently about living in a way that makes you feel proud of yourself. I love that, and I feel like I have been doing things that just make me smile out of the blue because I am so glad I did it lately and it is an awesome feeling. I encourage anyone to do something that makes them uncomfortable, or just stop holding back – with anything, everything…these moments of feeling more alive than ever are so invigorating. It doesn’t have to be from bungee jumping or canyon jumping…I felt the same excitement on a roof top deck by myself looking at stars, so happy I had to laugh, because I let myself feel so free. Also, don’t be too harsh of a critic on yourself. Learn from mistakes, salute yourself for doing something that wasn’t playing it safe, and then make yourself better because of it. Appreciate everything that led you to the person you are now; the good, bad, and ugly contributed so as long as you accept who you are now you should accept everything that got you there!
An easy way to get the feeling of release and happiness is to do anything that makes you feel like a kid. We kicked a soccer ball around with a dog during a sunset in Ireland and I couldn’t breathe I was laughing so hard at times. A dog. A ball. Friends. That’s all it took. Also, when we went to the Aran Islands I started running around on some huge rocks that we were all hanging out on near the water, and I just started running and jumping like a 6 year old and it was so great to feel so much joy from such a simple activity. But I felt free, and that feeling…of letting go of obligations and worries and stresses that cloud up your youthful mindset, wow, letting go of those and being in the moment is unlike any other feeling. Find something that gets you there, please!
This is a nice lead into… Stop worrying. Everything is going to work out. If you are determined enough, you will consciously make decisions and you will go the extra mile to do so. It is more so in your control than you realize. In a moment of panic, say in the Genoa train station in Italy where no one speaks English, and you are trying to find your way but are completely lost and confused by the transit system and names of destinations… And check me out. Numerous train rides later, close to the end of my trip, and I am perfectly fine. Stressful situations are always temporary, and if you can realize that in the moment it will pass by a lot more quickly. If you need a reminder that a problem is temporary, go in nature for a while. There is no cure like staring at the ocean waves over and over and over and realizing that you are watching a pattern that never stops for anything. It is infinitely moving. Or sit by a mountain and realize how tiny you are, and then stretch that into how small you are in one city, in one country, in one continent… Etc. Things that seemed enormous start to look really small when compared to much more massive, concrete things. Nothing quiets my mind faster than flowing water or mountains, that is the truth.”
Hopefully some of this was beneficial to read, but as I mentioned, there is nothing like traveling and experiencing the world for yourself and learning these lessons firsthand. Whether it is through studying abroad, an international internship, or a backpacking extravaganza (or a combination of those!), if you have any inkling to travel, do not wait any longer. Start planning, and find a way to get out there! If you have any questions about traveling or want to know more about life abroad, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.