Europe is funny.
Europe is funny in the way we act, in the way we interpret everything, and the way it teaches us. Let’s dive into that humor, shall we?
Here in America, we identify as our states because someone from New York is so different from someone in Georgia with everything from accents to food preferences. Of course, we can all have a mutual understanding of English and love for burgers. That’s where we become American. In Europe, you aren’t a Floridian, you’re an American. Usually, if I told someone that I was from Florida, I was given a very puzzled look, and often a head turn. “America,” I’d reassure them. That, they seemed to understand. However, those that knew Florida always lit up… “You mean with palm trees and Disney World!?” Yes, that’s the one!
American is a major sense of identity for all of us, which is accentuated every July. It’s also accentuated as soon as we are out of the country. Once in Europe, the glass is shattered and your eyes are opened to how American you really are. One American stereotype that I never thought of myself identifying with was that we are all loud. Of course, on occasion I can let out a particularly loud laugh, but I can think of so many times where I am the one in the group hushing everyone else. Once I made it to Germany, it was a rude awakening that Germans are quiet and Americans are definitely not. Our group was talking in volumes that seemed so normal to us, yet gained a few dirty looks on trains and some mumbles of “Ruhe bitte.”
Another stereotype for us, that is often something overlooked, is that we like things bigger. Thanks to movies like Supersize Me from 2004, people around the world know that we like our food portions big. Yet, I didn’t ever think this stretched to other capacities. My first shock in our small world was showering in Ireland. Our Air BnB in Dublin had narrow staircases and a tiny shower. I couldn’t seem to shampoo without hitting my elbows at least six times. I didn’t think much of it in the moment except that it was “probably just this house.” Everything seemed smaller in this one Bed and Breakfast, and of course there have to be bigger showers around here…I was wrong. Germany, Italy, and France proved me wrong with every shower I encountered. The only area I seemed to find with a spacious shower was Amsterdam, so give my regards to the Dutch!
Before leaving for study abroad, we were all herded into the Reitz Union auditorium for a pre-departure meeting. For most of us, myself included, we haven’t entered this room since our Preview Group stopped here all those summers ago. Now, we sat in anticipation to leave the country and embark on what looked to be an amazing time. While there, they covered the basics of study abroad through UF like getting the appropriate international insurance, checking the CDC for recommended vaccines, and the five stages of study abroad. There were five things that kept popping up in the meeting, and all of them were how we would deal with and interpret our journey. The five stages are excitement, disorientation, loneliness, homesickness, and serenity. All of those are so important, many come and go through the trip, and are also a story for another time. Until then, just trust me when I say that they all happen to all of us!
While we ride on this roller coaster that is study abroad, there are highs in the adventures and lows in the culture shocks. But all of it ends up being to your benefit. After all, although you have some serious dips and flips, you’re still on a roller coaster!! Through all of these turns and adrenaline, study abroad manages to teach you about yourself. I never knew that I was lacking so much in my understanding of who I am. One of my favorite writers, Brooke Lauren Elise Garrison, said it best when she wrote “How strange that I have traveled around the sun for nineteen years, yet I am only now learning to explore the universe within myself.” Travel has a strange way to teach everyone of what’s truly important, and what they need to let go of. So uncanny that I am living this European reality now, and dropping the less important things in life.
So, give my regards to Europe. Thanks for explaining all of us better than we could ourselves. Thanks for providing us one of the most action packed rides we’ll encounter. And most importantly, thanks for helping us uncover our true selves.