There’s an angle to everything. It’s a keyhole view of the world we think we know. It’s through the learning process that we decipher the world we live in—to widen that keyhole.

 

I’ve always been addicted to the learning process. I referred to it as being passionately curious in the environment and all of those that inhabit it.

 

I could tell you the cliché idea that traveling is unfathomable to those who haven’t experienced it. But, I won’t. Instead I’ll say…

 

It’s different. It’s novel.

 

There are a few key takeaways that I think anyone could understand, traveler or not. My study abroad experience through the people I’ve encountered taught me three things…

 

  • With traveling comes the ability to reinvent ourselves
  • Emphasized in a country like Italy, there’s a leisure pace of life that proves to be beneficial in many ways
  • Empathy thrives when we’ve been given the opportunity to experience the world in a way other than our own

 

Reinventing ourselves?

 

I first spoke to someone about this idea in Romania, with my friend, Jason. He shared with me his testimony of traveling to a foreign country at a young age. He loved the idea of being able to reinvent himself.

 

It wasn’t that he actually did reinvent himself over and over again. But, it was the idea that social norms that normally plagued our lives weren’t consistently there. These social norms remained in a form that differed depending on where you traveled to.

 

In his case, it varied throughout the European countries he traveled to. If he wanted to shift his life’s focus on a culture that revolved around food, he could have moved to Italy or France. Then, assimilate well into the culture (I mean, he speaks about five languages!) and change the direction of his life.

 

Another example of this is in Lecce. My friend John moved to Italy decades ago and hasn’t looked back since. When I asked the California native what kept him in Italy so long, he replied easily…

 

“It was the change in priorities.”

 

He talked of a world where people still valued talking to one another face to face. Where at 5 or 6 in the evening, the streets would still be crowded with people socializing with one another. They wouldn’t be indoors, attached to their flat screened TVs.

 

It was a slower life indeed, but slower didn’t necessarily mean better. What Italy meant to him was the ability to revolutionize the life he had been living. The ability to reinvent the world around him to perpetuate his success as an artist (see my previous post on John, here) and improve his quality of life.

 

It isn’t temporary, it’s life changing. His decades inhabiting Italy attest to that.

 

Leisure at its finest

 

Leisure is something I thought I knew… but turns out, I really didn’t.

 

Before my trip, leisure was time away from responsibility. It was temporary ailment to the hardships (if I can really call them that), of my life.

 

Honestly, I didn’t know how to relax. I had forgotten how to enjoy the little nuances that life shared with us on a daily basis.

 

My friends had told me that every meal I ate, I made it look as if I hadn’t eaten in years. I scarfed down everything while I was living in the states.

 

I ate alone, often. I ate in the car. I ate excruciatingly late.

 

Eating was scheduled very tightly just like every “leisurely” activity I had in my life. It was this perpetual clock ticking at the back of every move I made.

 

Traveling made me question if I ever really fully enjoyed leisure back home.

 

First and foremost, food was the most dramatic change of pace. My homestay experience led me to have at least an hour and a half dinners every week.

 

This gave to really take a moment and savor every moment. It really gave meaning to “comfort food.”

 

I slowed down the pace of an everyday activity, and got an increased amount of pleasure from it.

 

After doing this with food, I began applying it to everything, consciously and subconsciously. I enjoyed extraordinary conversations with strangers and peers alike.

 

I took the time to revel in the company of my professors. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much in my entire academic career. Their exceptional teaching skills had influence over that, but a huge part of it was an intrinsic decision to slow the tempo of my surroundings.

 

There’s a lingering side effect of participating in a study abroad program, and it’s trusting the pace of one’s life.

 

Empathy, can you feel that?

 

Coming from California, I assumed I understood diversity.

 

The diverse collection of individuals I had a pleasure of interacting with, shocked me again and again.

 

I felt their collective…

  • Pain
  • Endearment
  • Confusion

 

One of the first encounters with cultural pain I had was with a street vendor. I noticed my roommate, Jorge, had gotten stopped for a conversation on the way back to our flat.

 

When I approached the two talking and checked if they were alright, the street vendor questioned me…

 

“You’re studying economics, right? What is the point of it? If it’s to stimulate growth for the country, why are there extremely rich and extremely poor?”

 

This wasn’t the first instance I’ve heard an opinion similar to his. I felt the pain and frustration in his voice when he questioned me. He knew we were American.

 

It’s true, we were studying economics. I learned about the high percentage of an underground economy occurring in Italy. There was no doubt that the vendor was participating in this.

 

I had answers to his questions, but I could feel the struggle this man was going through and knew nothing I could say could ease it. It was a moment of humbling empathy.

 

I experienced extreme cultural endearment in a couple places, one being Sofia, Bulgaria. From the couple I met before landing, to the host of the hostel, Bulgarians are some of the nicest people I have ever met (if not THE nicest).

 

The taxi driver stood out the most for me. He asked me what I knew of Bulgaria, and I replied, “not much.”

 

And to my surprise this driver became Bulgaria’s walking encyclopedia. He told me of the invention of Enigma, a binary system that came from a Bulgarian.

 

The love he and everyone else had in that small country will continue to inspire me in everyone I encounter.

 

The cultural confusion I experienced was mostly in social and political issues. Almost every European I spoke with politically, asked me mockingly what I thought about Trump.

 

They mentioned the social atrocities he was about to commit or had committed and slandered him relentlessly.

 

This is when I learned that I, as an American, did the same to them all the time. I live vicariously through the media I’m exposed to about Europe. Much of which is glorified or exaggerated to retain an audience.

 

In a social sense, there were many Europeans that assumed typical stereotypes about America. From the weather to constant celebrities living around us.

 

I can’t be blind anymore, the world has given me a glimpse of how much I didn’t know, and helped me relate to individuals I never could have imagined to connect with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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