Dear Readers, Followers, Likers, and Happen-Uponers:
Thank you for your support and interest over the past year and a half. I have greatly enjoyed sharing my study abroad and travel triumphs, pitfalls, and all that’s in-between. When I started out my main goal was to encourage those who ever wondered ifthey should go to actually take the leap. I don’t know if I have been successful, but I hope I have aided in one ticket or tank of gas being purchased.
What I didn’t expect was the impact writing this blog would have on me. As a proponent and believer in the benefits of journaling, self-reflection, and post-experience processing, writing this blog has allowed me to further reflect on my experiences but from a distance only gained through the passage of time. As a result, this fresh look at my travels has yielded new lessons for me.
The reason I write this letter is because I feel it is time for something new. In the future you will see some changes to this blog (what they all are I am not quite sure yet). For the time being I plan to keep the current content easily accessible and will continue with the Postcards. Some items will be condensed as I make room for expansion. But fear not! Travel will remain at the heart of the blog.
I hope you stick around to see what’s in store. I am open to input as these changes begin to roll out. You can contact me via the blog or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the fantastic film about studying abroad, L’Auberge Espagnole, Xavier, our main character, makes the following observation upon arrival in Barcelona, Spain (it’s in French, but these are the subtitles with some bits edited out):
“When you first arrive in a city nothing makes sense. Everything’s unknown, virgin. After you’ve lived here, walked these streets you’ll know them inside out, you’ll know these people. Once you’ve lived here…crossed this street 10, 20, 1000 times…It’ll belong to you because you’ve lived there. That was about to happen to me but I didn’t know it yet.”
This narration in the film really stuck with me not only because it’s true, very true, but because that’s what I wanted most out of my study abroad experiences – to have those streets, parks, shops, and sidewalks, including their inhabitants, to belong to me and I, in turn, to belong to them. But you can’t get there without experiencing the unknown first.
That first bike ride through alleyways to taste the not so yummy kroket in Utrecht, Netherlands is a perfect example for a time when I truly felt nothing around me made sense and what was around the next curve was completely unknown. (That I was focused on not getting killed by my fellow cyclists, I’m sure, had nothing to do with it.) It is only in hindsight that I can recollect that there was a prior way of seeing things. At the time I didn’t know things would look different, would change. As a result, I may have ridden in the same alleyways a number of times and not have known it. If I did, they never looked the same as that first time.
Before understanding all this, the fact that I couldn’t retrace that first bike ride drove me insane. I am someone who is good – no great – with directions, maps, moss growing on the north side of the tree, we parked the car over there stuff.
But that first time had no previous sensory attachments, no known destination until it was chosen for me, no frame of reference. There was one time near the end of my four months that I thought I recognized an alleyway. But I couldn’t be sure. I wouldn’t be seeing it with the same virgin eyes.
It wasn’t about the geographic components. It was about me. How me living there had changed the way I saw the roads and spaces around me. New memories colored spaces. The roads, canals, shops, and alleyways became mine.
That street is where I was asked what time it was by a Dutchmen and I both understood and answered correctly (grammatically) though I gave the wrong hour. That square is where I saw Prince Willem-Alexander and his future Princess Máxima on their parade route through the city. And along that canal is where I said goodbye to a very dear friend.
These memories and stories are what make the streets yours and you theirs. In time I was able to achieve my goal of belonging. And when I have the chance to return to Utrecht, a lot will have changed over the years but those memories will still be there and that street, square, and canal will still be mine.
Post Script: The capturing of the study abroad experience shown in L’Auberge Espagnole make it a must see for anyone who is planning on or just thinking about making that leap.
What one wants to get out of their time abroad, on a road trip, any travel really, is very personal. No two people experience the same thing when in the same circumstances. What one person sees as a good experience another can see as a bad one. Check out this blog post from Northwestern University’s study abroad blog as one girl reflects on a trip to Barcelona. She’s entertaining and insightful as she describes how she felt at the time and how she views the experience now a few years later.