Other than occasionally staring nostalgically at photos, there are frequent things that being abroad has changed in my day-to-day life. The main thing might be that I’ve discovered that there is an astounding amount of things that I don’t know, or just barely scratched the surface of. A brief trip in and out of a country and a longer stay both have different kinds of experiences attached, but both are samplings of a bigger picture of the world.
But anyway. These are a few things I’ve learned – whether they be concepts of cultures or ways of life.
To start, I don’t see international people the same way. The kitchen staff at Chick-fil-A was made up incredibly brave people. Young men and women moved from Asia not knowing any English and somehow managed to gain citizenship, get a job, learn a language and a completely different cultural and social system. They worked hard and managed to get promoted into leadership and get an education.
I barely breezed in and out of a country with their differing habits and way of life, but I did not have to strap down and learn to cope and adapt habits I did or didn’t like. I thought train stations were stressful at first. I was confused when a grocery store didn’t offer plastic bags and I needed to heap all my purchases in my arms and hobble down the street back to my hostel like a doofus.
The confused immigrant at a grocery store does not only deserve your help if they don’t understand how the self-check out works, but they deserve your respect. No, they aren’t stupid. They are perhaps the bravest person you may encounter today or this week.
There are endless ways you can live your life from day-to-day. I wish the United States had more public transportation. Trains, metros, busses. Those things are awesome. Tiny bathrooms are doable. You don’t really *need* a giant kitchen. Or a dryer for that matter.
Maybe American’s overcomplicate things. Not maybe… Americans do overcomplicate things. But maybe public transportation is also overcomplicating things in Europe. Maybe everyone should just buy a car and drive everywhere. That’s simpler. You control when you leave and when you arrive. But you also need to know how to get there. Public transportation (for the most part) takes away the necessity for navigation skills.
I was only in Mexico, Ukraine, and Europe – and not for long. I wonder now about places like Africa and Asia. The American was is not the “best way”. It just happens to be the way I’m used to.
Belongings and Travel. I feel like I have two personalities and opinions when it comes to stuff. I remember after coming back from my trip from Europe that was over a month, I went out of town for three days. In Europe I had one backpack. Leaving for the weekend I had a suitcase and another handbag.
Even while I’m packing for college, I was staring at what I was bringing and wondering if I really needed all of that. I realize I’m a college freshman and probably have miscalculated what I will and will not use. But I can’t help but remember Europe every single time I pack. Is it worth it to haul all of this around for a small comfort? Or will I be more comfortable with less to haul?
Everyone speaks English. Everyone can help. Everyone is nice. This is more a stress-free realization, and I guess it’s not 100% true – not everyone is nice. But I find myself repeating this as I walk out the door to encounter a new “adulting” challenge. If I’m in an airport and am afraid I’ll be late or lost (I never have been. I’m paranoid. But maybe that’s way I’m overly early and certain about the location of everything) but I remind myself that everyone speaks English, and everyone there is there to help. The airport, the bank, the doctor’s office, the post-office, the grocery store, and soon, college. Whatever I’m getting ready to do that I’ve never done before, people are there to help me, and it’s never risky to just ask questions.
(In Ukraine, they tend to just yell louder if you weakly say you don’t speak Russian. God Bless America)
Safety. I honestly think we watch too much news and worry over a shooting or robbery. Yes, they suck. They shouldn’t happen. But we live in a country where we have giant glass windows that don’t have to be barred (Europe). We don’t need a giant cement wall out front of the house with a big door with a huge bolting lock (Mexico). In comparison, our flimsy wood doors and glass backdoors and giant windows look pathetic. Why, just anyone could break in! But they don’t. Because people don’t do that sort of thing in America, and for the most part, we’re safe.
There are the sights and the history and the varying levels of differences as far as food, language, and habits go. But while I love the fact that I’ve seen the Colosseum and the Eiffel tower, I’m far more appreciative of the different perspective traveling has given me now that I’m back safely in America.