Jalilah Byrd | London, England | Post 4
So, this will be my last post, huh? Doesn’t particularly feel like “just yesterday” I was writing my first one–no, it was definitely an internship cover letter yesterday–but that’s what thoughtful people say in times like these. I certainly feel as though my time abroad has been too short; that’s certainly more to the point, eh? Yet I’m not really at the end of it: I still have a month and a bit from the time I’m writing this. What if it feels terribly long by the time it’s over? How am I supposed to conclude these posts if I’m not at the conclusion of my stay?
Formal writing conventions aside, I really did have fun. I met new people, saw fantastic sights, learned a bunch of cool things, in and out of the classroom. Yet barring any clichés, I think my most valuable take-away from this trip has been perspective, both in a global and personal sense–let me count the ways:
Let’s return to my first post, in which I detailed the overwhelming fright with which I began this memorable adventure. Needless to say, I didn’t feel at all prepared. Even apart from the paralyzingly daunting idea of making an entirely new set of friends, the simple act of traveling alone frightened me. I had never gone through customs on my own (they really try to be as intimidating as possible) and had never navigated a foreign country by myself–Metro-North was very nearly the most complicated travel planning I’d ever undertaken (which stops ten blocks from my apartment).
Yet fast forward to a week ago, when I successfully planned and booked an entire trip to Berlin! Granted, I was traveling with a companion, yet I didn’t exactly have too much help coordinating the venture (…at all). And while I’ve taken a year of beginner German at Vassar, that was two years ago and, well, beginner. Nevertheless, the trip went off without a hitch, and I was even able to fly back on my own! Good for me.
Yes, it was a little daunting, but that seems to be the perspective this trip has given me. Even though it may have seemed a bit frightening, I need not worry. I mean, I’m a New Yorker! I’d been underestimating how much that, in itself, had prepared me for this type of of travel. Natural resourcefulness, awareness, and adaptability.
(Plus, everyone really does speak English.)
But that gets me to my next point–the global perspective this trip has begun to instill in me. Obviously, I was already expecting the dubious light in which most countries see the good ole US of A. Yet in one way, I overestimated it–yes our foreign policies and tourists are obnoxious and ham-fisted, but, unlike what I expected, no one really held it against me, personally. Sure there were a few side-swipes at my knowledge of cuisine (but like, if you’re British, don’t even try to school a New Yorker in cuisine, Mr. Mushy-Vegetables-and-Flavorless-Everything) but everyone still welcomed me with open arms.
But in terms of the countries themselves, England, of course, has a bit of an unwarranted pretentious streak. Yeah American tourists are fairly terrible, but the British haven’t yet realized that theirs are just as bad. Their underlying attitude belying their history of colonization still seems to pervade their entire international perspective. Let’s just say, the colonies across the water didn’t land as far from the tree as the tree would like to think.
Yet all in all, this trip has been overwhelmingly satisfying, and has been one of the most valuable semesters of my life (no offense Vassar). I would highly recommend it to nearly everyone–perspective is a valuable asset, and not only in the ways I mentioned. You can’t help but feel a bit more mature, more responsible, when traveling and living relatively alone. You also learn how to live with less, a lesson that was long overdue in my case–you can’t carry but so much on the plane with you, and minor amenities like WiFi in the rooms are not even guaranteed. But, you learn to live with it, for the sake of an eye-opening experience, and, well, your sanity, really. It takes awhile but, you’ll be able to get used to it.
International Top Tips #1-3
1. Priorities: Berlin’s Museum Island is a spectacular place for those who love any type of art, especially antiques. But as you’re leaving, make sure to stop at the gelato truck sitting near the scaffolding across the bridge nearest to the Pergamon Museum. Cheap, and mind-blowingly tasty.
2. Hostel living: Unless you’re rolling in cash, clearly you’ll be staying in hostels when traveling around Europe. Berlin’s Heart of Gold Hostel is conveniently located, cheap, and has huge wall paintings of post-apocalyptic mutant gunslingers in some of the rooms, over the beds. (Not kidding.)
3. Parce que je dit NON: Although catcalling and street harassment are problems for women everywhere, this problem seemed especially present in Paris. It did not seem particularly threatening–it just sometimes takes a bit more than a “no” to be left alone. This is also true for street artists, who will ask “why?!” if you refuse their service.