“What’s the coolest thing you’ve done recently?” This question plagues my conversations with nearly all of my loved (and liked) ones and every time I am asked this, I rack my brain for anything to satisfy their desire to live vicariously through me. But all that seems to come up is a lot of empanadas, some good drinks with good friends, and the question, “Haven’t you seen my Facebook?! I put a lot of work into fulfilling my role obligated by society as a study abroad student so that everyone knows how cool I am.”
This may not be exactly what I’m supposed to say on a blog about my cultural whirlwhind that is my experience abroad, but the thing is, I haven’t been doing a lot of individually cool things. But like, I feel like my life is still like, really, really cool. Also, you must be new here if you think this is a blog full of things I’m supposed to say on a study abroad blog. Cue maniacal chuckle/tears.
Sure, I can rattle off a bunch of restaurants and coffee shops and dogs we have seen, but when it comes down to it, none of those things are individually all that interesting. This is where I think we are wrong about what we tell those who are about to go abroad. My friend Alli (sup gurl) made the great observation that people romanticize being abroad so much. It’s portrayed as four months of sightseeing and partying. And I suppose for some people, it could very well be just that. But I’ve lived my whole life priding myself on not being “some people”.
What I’m getting at is that I think there’s something deeper to experience while living abroad: living. Living in a new culture and experiencing on a realistic level how the people of this area of the world actually live, and consequently, view the world. At least, that is my preference. I understand that it’s also natural to do unforgivably touristy things like take pictures of every picturesque street or grab drinks BEFORE dinner, but I came on this trip to experience what it’s like to live here, and LIVE HERE I WILL, dammit.
Inevitably, there is an element of self-discovery in this, which basically means you have to skip class a couple times to cry in your room and eat Alfajors (United States peeps- you’ll get one, cherish it). While these cry sessions are not usually welcome, there’s really no way to prevent them. At some point in the day you can just feel it creep up on you and, just like in the Dane Cook sketch, you know that as soon as you get home and are left alone, it’s going to happen. I normally stop by the store on my way home to grab some Oreos, because my addition to the quote “a wise man is never cold twice” is “a wise woman never cries without Oreos twice”.
The goal is to come away from these with one more small slice of understanding who you are and what makes you tick. And mine are normally followed by a cold shower and a promise that I won’t eat any more of your Alfajors followed by a step on the scale, which makes me feel much less fat because there are roughly 2.2 pounds to every kilogram, so I get to pretend I’m under 100 lbs here. It’s kinda fun.
During these cry sessions, you normally send some irrationally angsty texts about how stupid this place is and how you can’t wait to come back. And then your friends say all the wrong things like “You need to enjoy this experience while you can!” and you resent them for a minute for not understanding your super cool but still super hard life. I know, nobody understands you, right?
But then comes the realization that if the roles were reversed, you would probably say the same things. Living abroad is an incredibly unique experience and really, the only people who can relate are the people who have done it before.
Here is where you fit in. You are one of the lucky few who has the privilege to lose yourself enough to find yourself. Nobody ever develops a great relationship with himself by being 100% happy and 100% comfortable 100% of the time. These have not been the best months of my life. These have not been the hardest months of my life. However, they have arguably been the most important when taking into consideration the sheer amount of understanding I have gained. Understanding of myself and of the world around me, which I was only able to gain by first trying to understand others.
There’s a quote that is way too overused in DIY projects of painting globes on Pinterest that says, “If you travel far enough, you’ll eventually meet yourself.” While I’m normally not a proponent of anything that anyone wants to paint on this beautiful world we live in, I really like this quote. That is, to lose enough familiarity that you are forced to become familiar with the only thing you have left: yourself. So I suppose THAT’S the coolest thing I’ve done recently.