I am on the way back from northern Spain where I spent the last few days exploring San Sebastián and Bilbao. My 5 hour train is taking me through the Spanish countryside, allowing me to enjoy the beautiful scenery of this county that I have called home for the past few months in between my quick naps (because if being abroad has taught me one thing it is how to sleep on any mode of transportation). This trip marks the end of my travels within Spain but I am lucky enough to have one more trip planned to Croatia before I leave Madrid.
Looking back on this semester, I have come a long way since I arrived. Before I traveled to Italy, I was admittedly terrified. I had never traveled so far on my own, my language skills were poor, and I lacked confidence in my ability to overcome the challenges to come. I experienced homesickness, FOMO, loneliness, and got miserably lost in every country I visited. I also made a new best friend from Peru, speak a significant amount of Italian and Spanish, gained confidence and independence, and opened my mind to the perspectives of people from all over the world. Above all, I have matured significantly this semester. The academic obstacles that felt impossibly heavy last semester, now seem trivial compared to the problems facing our global community. The anxieties of graduating and finding a place in the “real” world seem less urgent. I am confident in myself.
Spending a few days in a foreign country versus spending two whole weeks or longer makes a huge difference in how well you can get a feel for a country’s culture. Obviously only two weeks is not nearly enough time to learn how people anywhere truly live, but a recent two week trip through Indonesia – the longest I’ve spent in one country in SE Asia besides Singapore – hugely lit a passion in me to continue traveling and learning.
I’ve gotten a lot of exposure to what it would be like to live and work in Singapore. Being a major financial hub for Southeast Asia, this city boasts the kind of opportunities for young professionals that you’d see in many cities in the U.S.
Students at NUS compete for the same internships and jobs that American students strive for and feel a lot of the same pressures for success. My fellow Singaporean classmates have to balance a full slate of classes, extracurriculars, and interviews/job applications like many of my friends at UVA. It’s funny how you can come to the other side of the world and experience a very similar culture of competitiveness and determination that you would see at UVA.
Being back home in America is almost surreal. Everything is the same and completely different all at once. It’s almost like I’m experiencing what it’s like to live in America and be an American citizen all over again. That is not to say that I wasn’t an American while I was in the Netherlands, because I most assuredly stood out as one on lots of occasions. What I mean to suggest is that the lens through which I view my own life and the culture of America has shifted because I now have this expanded understanding of America from the European perspective as well. I see the U.S. being in a more unstable place politically now than I saw it before I went abroad because I’ve looked in the eyes of so many wide-eyed internationals and have seen their complete lack of belief at the things that are happening here. However, in classes, the USA is still the benchmark against which all countries seem to continue to compare themselves. Taken together, this could be indicative that we are still the leaders in the dream for a better, freer world but that our leadership is faltering and our message is becoming clouded and misaligned with the values we once held so strongly.
I leave Singapore this weekend. Hell of a semester. I look back and try to understand everything I’ve been through, but I realize that the best thing is not understanding my experiences at the fullest. I’ll have to further analyze my experiences in years to come. Try to draw back and learn from moments that have past, but have yet a lot to teach me.
My last 2017 Southeast Asian exploration before heading back to the West.
Borneo has a sense of its own. Although I’ve tried to avoid touristy places in my Asian travels, you always come across tourists, backpackers and other western friends that you meet along the way. Borneo was nothing like that. We might have run into a couple of tourists as well, but not the tourist culture.
We were in Borneo for four days and we constantly ran into situations where we were living the local experience. All of the restaurants, the bars, and the activities were filled with people from the Sabah province – and if there were tourists, most were Malaysian. It was basically my friend and I travelling together through the real deal.
I have officially hit the point in which I have less than a month abroad less and less than half a month left in London. I just returned from Prague, and it was one of my favorite trips. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but Prague surpassed those expectations. I think I had some preconceived notions about the city being in a Central European country and its communist past. Prague, however, was a vibrant, lively city full of street performers, amazing food, tourists, and helpful locals. I also really enjoyed Prague because of the Jewish heritage that is there. They have a Jewish Quarter with a rich history and some of the many synagogues from earlier periods, before rebuilding occurred, remain. I have found a lot of the places I have visited have a lot of Jewish history, but to me Prague seemed the place in which this history and heritage was most on display.
I’ve officially left Madrid, and I’m currently en route through the Alps from Switzerland to Munich. These next couple weeks I will be traveling a lot around central and eastern Europe before my final return flight to the US. I figured I would use this last European blog to talk about the major differences I noticed between America and Europe, especially Spain.
Since I last wrote I have traveled to Italy and Cambridge, as well as spending more time in London. I spent 6 nights in Italy with my sister who came to visit me from Virginia, and I have to say it was one of the strongest culture shocks I have had so far. We started in Verona and then trained to Milan, Venice, and Rome.