In a past post, I mentioned the five stages that we all go through as we adjust and interpret our new environment. I said it was a story for another time, and that time has finally come!
Stage One: Excitement
This stage is probably the most dangerous of them all. It occurs while you’re preparing to leave, and then continues into your first day there. While getting ready for your upcoming trip, you are full of pure joy and things are easy to be forgotten. I can’t tell you how many VERY important things that I forgot in America because I was too busy getting excited over silly things like hats. I couldn’t remember to pack a scarf for the cold weather in Germany, but of course I brought three different hats to wear in Italy! Not only is excitement dangerous for forgetfulness whilst packing, but it is also bad for developing ideas of the trip that cannot possibly be attained. You don’t ever want to build a trip up too much and then be let down once you get there! But, if you plan out all your hopes and dreams, hopefully you can make it all work—just don’t forget to be realistic with your time planning.
While it can be dangerous, the excitement stage is not always a bad thing. The excitement stage stemmed into the first bits of my trip. Every time we arrived in a new country, our group (whether all fourteen of us or just Alexa & I) would take turns saying “I can’t believe we’re in Ireland” or “Do you know how long I’ve wanted to ride a gondola in Italy?” I mean, it’s hard to not be excited when you’re experiencing such a beautiful world and culture right in the heart of these nations.
Stage Two : Disorientation
For me, this stage would be better titled as “Culture Shock.” Disorientation is where you start to become more aware of the fact that you are not used to this place, you don’t know the language, and you don’t really know what you’re ordering off the menu! For me, this happened on our first day in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. This was day six of my trip, and the excitement of Germany was wearing off as I was becoming more aware of my unfamiliar surroundings. We arrived in Frankfurt (Oder) and were greeted by some of the nicest student assistants from Viadrina. However, all of us had a little bit of an initial shock as we found out we wouldn’t be living in dorms with each other, but with other students who might not even speak English. Not only did no one in town know our language, but neither did the people we live with? Oh, and to make it even better, there was no wifi anywhere, so if you needed to translate something, you can’t. This sudden anxiety-ridden fear of mine became a reality as I tried to order some food for lunch. I was on my own, no wifi, and no english speakers. I ended up picking something based off of a picture… I do not recommend that method to anyone because to this day, all I know about that meal is that it was gross—I’m still not even sure what type of meat I was eating!
Stage Three : Loneliness
Disorientation and Loneliness can go sort of hand-in-hand for some people, and I am no exception to that. My loneliness set in as I was settling in to my dorm room. My two roommates were rarely out of their room and did not speak any english. From our brief and struggled conversation, I was only able to get that they were from Bulgaria and they lived in that room for a while. So, talking to my roommates was out of the question, maybe people from my trip? Nope! No one from my trip was in my same building, so if I wanted to talk to another UF student, I needed to find out their room and see if they were home. However, no one really had any way to contact each other because of our limited data, text, or calls. Next on my list of contacts is my family back home. But again, not a lot of data, text, and calls. But Brittany! You’re in your dorm now. Don’t you have wifi there? NOPE! No wifi anywhere, and that included our dorm rooms. If you had a computer that could hotspot, you had that option to provide some wifi, but my room’s ethernet attachment was broken, so I had no way of doing so.
Needless to say, I needed to find a new way to avoid loneliness. So I found Niamh’s apartment! Niamh was another student on our trip with a beautiful view in her dorm, fast wifi from her computer hotspot, and most of the time she had beer & wine. Sarang, Niamh, and I ended up there every afternoon to watch some Riverdale on Netflix and maybe work on some of our homework. The three of us turned out to be the best of friends, and I have study abroad to thank for that…and Archikins. #RiverdaleStrong!
Stage Four : Homesickness
Homesickness. This is something that I figured I wouldn’t even experience. As I sat in my apartment in Gainesville, I was looking up things to do in all of the places we’d go, and I couldn’t imagine that I would get homesick during my five week trip of a lifetime. Boy, was I wrong!
The whole trip was full of excursions and excitement. That is, until the last week and a half. For about the last ten days, we had no impending trips to look forward to, so going home was our light at the end of the tunnel. My dad asked me, “Well wouldn’t you rather be in class in Germany than be in class in Gainesville?” Sure, I thought, Maybe if I was in actual Frankfurt or Berlin, but Frankfurt (Oder)? No. I’ll take my nice bed, my warm friends, and my cute little dog in Florida right about now! I distinctly remember toasting during one of our final dinners in Poznan, Poland to going home!
Stage Five : Serenity
This stage is another that I would like to rename… So, here’s to the Graduation Goggles stage. This is where you start to realize that it is all coming to an end soon, and the things you once didn’t care for, you thought you couldn’t live without. That creepy man in the Slubice McDonald’s? I’ll miss him! The bonfire that was overtaken by vengeful mosquitos? No place I’d rather be! The Dominos pizza that came from Poland because Frankfurt (Oder) was too small to need one? Wouldn’t want pizza from anywhere else! The Kaufland grocery store that had literally anything you could need and for a great price? PLEASE COME TO FLORIDA! And, perhaps the thing that we’ll all miss most, doners! These three euro doner boxes are what got me through every day while studying at Viadrina. Thankfully, I found a doner restaurant in St. Petersburg! But, as much as I’ll miss everything about the beautiful places we visited, nothing can replace the multitude of memories we made or the friendships we’ve formed.