It actually did not occur to me, pre-Europe, that I would learn anything about myself while travelling. It wasn't until chatting with my Auntie Lin mid-trip when she asked me, "So, what have you learned about yourself so far?"
I thought it was the strangest question.....learned about myself? Like How? What would I have learned? I sat back and thought about it and the first answer I could come up with was that based on the craziness and lack of sleep that had already gone down on the trip, I knew I was not well suited for a future life of adventure, craziness and lack of sleep (i.e. the military). But I desperately wanted to give her an answer that represented something positive and good about myself, rather than the pessimistic answer I just gave. So I told her I needed to reflect and think about it some, and so- here it is. So much reflecting its almost nauseating!
So I'm not sure what order to put these in...most important to least important? Vice versa? Do you not care? Ok good. I'll just put them in any order as I think of them. Keep in mind that some things are really rather small and rather common sensical but prior to this trip I was severely lacking in common sense, so these are still big achievements for me. Don't judge.
1) If you give me a map, of the city and of the subway system, I can now safely and effectively navigate any city! Woot! This is nice because before I felt nauseous when trying to understand NYC's metro and street names and yadayada and now I feel like I could probably do it just fine after surviving Paris and London and Amsterdam...
2) I learned how to effectively calm myself in high-anxiety situations. I got lost (very lost) a couple times and on the inside, wanted to completely freak out. But that wouldn't solve anything. At home I am used to relying on people. If I have a problem, I call my dad or mom. If that doesnt work, I call a friend to come help me. If no one can help me, I can turn to my iphone which has internet everywhere and the internet can get you out of almost any sticky. I can't exactly say I'm used to solving problems on my own. But being lost in Europe- my dad or any friend at home can't do squat for me, and in Europe I had no International Internet. So I learned how to calm myself down, and try breathing, and looking for clues to get me out of being lost. I learned that if you calm down and rationalize, things start to make a lot more sense. Even tiny clues help, and paying attention the first time can help you later when you are really lost. You have to just sort of turn on all the switches in your brain and use all thinking capabilities...its pretty cool. And well....I got home each time, didn't I? By myself? No matter how bad a situation, it will always be over eventually. There is always a way, a solution, you just have to keep looking. This was really important for me to have learned. I feel a lot more confident and less helpless now as a person, and feel a lot more confident travelling around the world and in my own country.
3) I can definitely not under any circumstances ever think that it is ok for me to eat pizza. It will never be a good idea, even if it is from Italy.
4) I learned that I can live out of a suitcase and backpack and purse! You may find this funny but I find it interesting....At home I have a whole room full of stuff and I always think that everything in that room is critical to my survival....until you realize you are just fine doing with the bare essentials for two weeks. I think with the ability to have washed my clothes in that suitcase, I could live with what I just lived with for a whole month....or maybe even year, who knows. I can see how backpackers do it now. Human survival doesn't need as much as I thought it did.
5) I have this weird obsession with taking pictures of cool signs, and cool messages people wrote with graffiti or something....I like signs. I also really seem to like windows. Particularly windows with flowers. I don't know why. I mean, windows are nice, but they aren't fantastic...regardless, I have a lot of window pictures.........
6) I learned I have an extremely weak immune system. Why did I become a nurse? Good question.
7) I learned that I will never have a good relationship with most food. I really dread meal times and although I love to EAT, and am always hungry, I dislike or can't eat so many foods now that it has become a daily (three times a day) struggle on feeding myself and this is extra hard while travelling....abroad.
8) Europe is so environmentally friendly! I mean, go Europe! Good job! You save the world! America could really use some pointers in this field.
9) I have really learned how to be extra aware of my personal belongings. I am used to being able to just waltz around my town without having to worry about pickpockets. But thanks to my tour guides constant reminders of pickpockets and SIGNS on the STREET (this was weird!) to beware of pickpockets, suddenly I knew I couldnt just waltz down the street. I had to be really aware of my bag at all times. It also created this OCD thing in me, see number 10. But I learned to hold my zipper on my purse. If I'm holding my zipper, you can't get in, eh? Eh? Good, I know. I also put my coat over my purse a lot too. Not stylish at all, but...it worked.
10) I learned I have this strange OCD thing about zippering things. Like when I am on bus rides or planes or trains, or just walking down the street, I think of these weird things that I hope I remembered, and I find it absolutely necessary to unzip all of my zippable compartments on my backpack and purse until I find that item, and if I can't find that item, I have extreme anxiety. I'm almost positive I drove my bus mate, Drew, crazy because I couldn't sit still and I did a lot of zipping and unzipping, and lifting my bag up and back down and then more zipping, fussing, checking, re-checking....poor Drew. I also noticed I have extreme anxiety with thinking something happened to my personal belongings in my purse, despite my valiant efforts to protect them while holding the zipper. Example: I walk down a street. I suddenly remember I have not physically felt or seen my iphone in over 20 minutes. I HAVE to stop and check to make sure I have it. Okay, I have it. And my camera. Move on......holding the zipper, walk down the street again, still holding that zipper, no one can get in. Suddenly I feel the urge to check again.
What if the purse got a hole in it during that small walk?
I seriously need Xanax.
11) I learned how not to act and look like a tourist...as much. I still probably looked American but I tried really hard to not be annoying. I did a lot of independant exploring and I think that was the best part about the trip, and the number one way of how not to be an annoying tourist!
12) I still want to learn more languages, but its a LOT harder than I previously thought. German, for instance is going to be exceedingly harder than it should be.
13) I NEED ICE IN MY FRIGGEN DRINKS, OKAY? Call me spoiled, fine. Needy? Whatever. American? YES. BUT I LIKE MY DRINKS COLD! WHY IS THAT WEIRD! WHY ARE ALL EUROPE DRINKS WARM! GET ICE. I love your culture, I do, I really do- But refrigerators are friendly, I swear.
14) Paris is really dehydrating.
15) A lot of people my age suffer from the same embarrassing health problems as I do, but no one likes to talk about it. I never knew this before, until I spent a lot of time with the same people, like this trip. For example, when you first meet a group of people, that is definitely not something anyone wants to talk about. But after spending 24/7 (literally) with everyone after a week or so, you start noticing these things about each other and opening up about it. A lot of times I would mention I was nauseous and that gave permission for 6 other people around me to reveal THEY are nauseous too. I also found a friend that had almost the same exact health issues as me, and I never would have guessed it by looking at her. I guess were all good at hiding it. I just wish we could all be open about it so no one had to hide!
16) My tour director deserves all the credit in the world, being responsible for 42 stupid college kids. Do all 27 year old tour directors look like they might cry after two weeks?
Most important and last but not least....
17) America is pretty darn awesome. I have wanted to high tail it out of America for the longest time now. I was so dead set on moving out of this country because I was so sure America was doing everything wrong and that Europe had all the answers. Well, after travelling to Europe, although it was fascinating and gorgeous, it was not a magical place with unicorns and happy leprechauns and rainbows either. Europe has plenty of their own crap going on, and is a lot like America...except across the ocean. Although Americans to carry a negative reputation at times in Europe, I still felt a strong sense of patriotism when walking down the European street having so much fun with my American friends. We would see how another culture does one thing, and we would show them how we do it, and be proud. We do a LOT of things wrong, but we do it together and we have fun. Were a pretty good country after all and I don't have any intentions on moving away anytime soon. Plus, I like ice way too much.
To wrap it all up, I am going to have a little award show. Get Ready. These are very well thought out and went through a very intense grading system!
Favorite Meal: Innsbruck, Austria
Favorite City: Paris
Favorite People: Paris
Favorite Architecture: London
Favorite Culture: Amsterdam
Favorite overall food choices: London
Overall, it was amazing. I want to go back, of course. But next time I would like to go back with perhaps a specialized photography tour of older people, like its a requirement to be a graduate of college. I made some amazing new friends and had a lot of crazy fun, but I realize now that the typical drinking-college scene just isnt for me and I would have had a lot more fun In Europe with older 20 somethings or 30 somethings. One day, I can go back, perhaps with just 2-3 people. I definitely want to go back to Paris and London!
Thanks for reading. This was a lot longer than intended. I wasnt expecting 17.
~A Writer in a Nurse's Body