Getting Back to Normal

 

As the days tick by and I get closer to going back to New Paltz, I get more nervous. I haven’t been to New Paltz in a year. I know as soon as I get there I will remember how it felt and get back into the swing of things, but the feeling of New Paltz is foreign to me right now. I just need to get settled in and then everything will be better. I am excited to be back on a campus where everything is only a small walk away. I will also not need to worry about cooking, which is a nice plus!

Home

I’ve now been back in America for a few weeks, and it’s been nice. I really did not want to leave Ireland, but there are definitely comforts from home that I underestimated the importance of, and once i got home, I did start to appreciate being home, even though I didn’t want to leave at all. I still miss Ireland, and the other parts of Europe I visited, and I think about it all the time. I miss the people and places I met and discovered, and I definitely want to visit. I am not sure how it will be adjusting to New Paltz. While it will be nice to be back at school, I am really going to miss being in Limerick. I hope to visit Limerick over spring break, but it is not definite. I know I definitely want to go back to Ireland at some point. This experience was truly unlike any other, and I am so proud and grateful to have embarked on this semester-long journey, and I will always keep it near and dear to my heart.

Home At Last!

After a long flight and the long wait, I finally got to greet my family in New York. I was finally home! I could just lounge on the couch and watch TV. I could also hold my cat—and give her a ton of kisses and pet her a lot. I think I missed the smell and feel of my home the most. Yes, I did have my own room, but that isn’t the same as your home. Nothing feels like your home does.

Leaving England, I was a little sad, but I was ready to be home and see my family. I will miss going into London whenever I wanted, but I love my little town. London is great, but it can be overwhelming with the big crowds. I will miss hearing the British accent a lot, but that is only because the way they say things makes everything sound much more posh than when we say it. But nothing is like home.

I didn’t really have culture shock when I returned to the United States. The food upset my stomach a little bit, but not too much. London was fast passed, so getting back to the incredibly fast paced New York was not that big of a shock for me. I did have a little bit of jet lag, but it only lasted a day. I went to bed at 10 PM and woke up at 5 AM ready to take on the day, but the following day I slept until 9 AM. I will miss London, but I am enjoying being home.

Coming Back to America

I’m not really happy to come back to America. I’m going to miss being abroad. I’m going to miss the people I met, and the experiences I’ve had while being here. Everything is going to feel so different when i come back. When I first came here, I was so homesick and I wanted to be back home, specifically in New Paltz, but now that it’s time to go, I’m going to miss the people and places. But I’ so glad to have had this experience, and I will always treasure it, and I would totally recommend it to others who are considering studying abroad.

Culture Shock

Culture shock is something you will inevitably hear about when you decide to embark on a journey half way across the globe. I was told I’d have trouble adapting to the culture, the language, the customs, traditions, and the currency. I was convinced however, that the term “culture shock” was an exaggeration used to describe how maladapted individuals responded to normal changes you experience when living in another country. I considered myself a versatile and malleable individual who could handle anything thrown my way. Looking back, I realize this was my way of coping with the anxiety I felt from entering the unknown; which of course is 100% normal. The first week in Prague I was actually shown this graph:

 

 

I brushed it off as I was also taking in hundreds of other bits and pieces of information. But the wiser more experienced version of myself is now here to tell you that there is a high chance that you will experience culture shock. Plain and simple. If you are living in a country where you are a foreigner, culture shock is inevitable. Once the excitement of being in a new place and experiencing new things wears off, frustration, to some degree, will take over you.

 

Let me paint a picture for you:

Imagine you are midway throughout your semester and have just been reminded by your professor that your ten-page research paper is due in a week. Now I know what you’re thinking: you’re a responsible student who stays on top of your work and forgetting you have a paper due is not in your nature. But when you’re exploring a city you have limited time in day in and day out whilst traveling during the weekends, due dates are easy to forget. Luckily, European professors do not give homework for the most part but their easygoing character also means they won’t be constantly reminding you of when your big papers and projects are due. So now that you have some context of the situation you may find yourself in, imagine it’s also around the time where you begin to feel home sick. When holidays like Thanksgiving come up or a beloved one’s birthday, you will begin to miss home (I recommend disconnecting from social media as much as possible to counter-act this).

 

Now picture yourself in this hypothetical scenario, with these things lingering in your subconscious, and all of a sudden you find yourself unable to communicate with someone at a café. They don’t speak English and you don’t speak their language fluent enough for them to understand either; this can be really frustrating!

 

Halfway through your frustration you remind yourself that you’re a guest in someone’s country and this is to be expected thus allowing yourself to “brush it off.” On your way home (yes Prague became home) you are being stared at and laughed at. You tell yourself that it’s normal to stand out but you feel your blood start to boil a little. This is culture shock. When the excitement of being in a new place wears off you are faced with the fact that you are somewhere where you stand out all the time. You may begin to think everyone’s constantly staring at you and judging you and well, they probably are.

 

The most efficient way I’ve found to get over culture shock is to accept that you are a foreigner in another land. I find that it helps to think back to all the times you innocently laughed at someone who didn’t speak English, who was completely lost with no sense of direction, or who simply annoyed you because they were “tourists.” Accepting that you are a tourist in another country will make for a less frustrating realization of cultural differences. The faster you can accept this, the quicker this “shock” will pass on by. And trust me, it will pass. If you make an effort to get out of your comfort zone, nine out of ten times you will be rewarded. The reward is life long friendships, new perspectives, gratitude for the people in your life, and personal growth.

 

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman

Prague

My last abroad trip was in Prague. Prague is such a beautiful pace, and truly unlike anything I have ever experienced. I had never encountered the language before, and that was really interesting and cool to immerse myself in, even though it definitely made it harder. Things seem to generally be cheaper there. I spent a lot of time at Christmas markets in the square. One delicious food there is Prague ham. The ham is roasted on a spit in front of people, and then a big chunk is cut off and served on a plate with two slices of bread. The ham is humongous and delicious. I also had boiled corn and sliced potatoes on a skewer. I also tried mulled wine for the first time and it was delicious. I went to a few museums, and did some shopping, and delicious eating. The architecture in Prague is magnificent. Each and every building looks so unique and it’s hard to resist taking a picture of each one. Almost every street is cobblestone and I have discovered that I find these streets to be somehow more beautiful. Nightlife in Prague is also very busy, which is especially nice because I was traveling alone. I felt safe being out late at night, as there were always people around. I would definitely like to go back to Prague one day and experience even more of it.

Brussels

I spent a few days in Brussels, and it was a really awesome experience. My hostel was right near Grand Place, which was really convenient, and it’s beautiful. I went to some museums and really enjoyed taking in the surroundings. One museum was the Royal Museum of Art, which is really cool, and quite huge. I also went to a small town called Bruges, which was a train ride away. It’s very small, but so unique that it was so worth it to spend a day there. I had amazing food and delicious chocolate. Brussels definitely has a lot to see and do, and of course eat, and I think I would definitely like to go back and get to see even more of it.

Preparing to Go Home

I have loved it here in England, but I am so happy to go home. I have missed my family’s home cooked meals. And our junk food! England’s junk food is healthier than ours. It isn’t as greasy and as yummy. I want New York pizza and bagels and our sweet chocolate! It isn’t just the food that I have missed. I have obviously missed my family, but I just saw them a little bit ago, so I’m still excited to see them, but not as excited as I would have been if I didn’t see them during Thanksgiving. But I am so excited to see my cat. I have missed animal affection so much. I will be hanging out with my cat the entire day I land. I will play with her and hold her even if she doesn’t want it. My room is another thing that I have missed deeply. I miss my bed. Being able to take a nice shower once I get home will be amazing. The shower here is very small and can have its good and bad days.

But even though there are things that I make me wish these last days to pass by quicker, there are a lot of things that I will miss. I will miss being only twenty minutes from London and having the ability to just pop into Central for a day and come back. I will miss being forced to exercise and walk places to get food or to do something that I want to do. I will miss walking down the street and seeing all the houses right next to each other and thinking, this is just like the movies depicted it. No humidity has been great and my curly hair is not ready to go back where it is humid every other day. The weather has been very nice while I’ve been here. It has been low forties yet it hasn’t felt that cold. I will probably get to New York and be very cold, but I am enjoying not having to bundle up so much here. And the museums in London! There are so many that I have gone to, yet I haven’t been to nearly half of them.

I will definitely come back to London, but for vacation. I have enjoyed living in a city that is bigger than New Paltz, but I can only live in a big city for so long. I like the small town vibe. London has been a great experience, but I am happy to be going back to a small town. I will be back London—and Florence, and Rome, and Dublin, and Galway, and Munich, and Bruges.

A Must See: Aushwitz

The German phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei” means only work can set you free. This sign is visibly seen as you enter the former concentration camp in Aushwitz, Poland. Oh the irony…

It was a six hour overnight bus ride from Prague to Aushwitz. We departed at midnight so naturally none of my peers or myself got a good nights rest. There was one unpleasant and ironically unforeseeable misfortune that backtracked our trip there: a thick fog. This fog caused a lot of traffic as drivers could quite literally not see the road. However, this didn’t stop Eva, our wonderful tour guide, from rushing our breakfast in order to make it to the camp by 7am. It was important to get there at the very beginning of opening hours as typically Aushwitz is extremely packed, ultimately taking away from the experience.

It’s easy to lack empathy when you learn about the history of Jews in a middle school history class. After visiting Aushwitz, every single one of my peers, Jewish or not, shed a tear. I saw the actual gas chambers bodies were disposed of in. I saw thousands of shoes and suitcases that belonged to actual people who were murdered. I walked through an underground tunnel built for the prisoners. I witnessed some of my friends search through a massive book of names of the victims killed; many of whom found their relatives and cried with grief.

What I saw in Aushwitz was terrifying, horrifying, unjust, but necessary to have witnessed. Yes I knew about the atrocities that went on at this extermination camp, they were unfortunate, but distant. They were stories, statistics, numbers, and seemed very far away. Truth is, not very long ago, had you lived in Europe, you could have been a part of this brutal history. What if this was my family? My sister or brother? My cousin? My child? My friend? My neighbor? Visiting Aushwitz makes it personal for you, regardless where you come from.

For all my traveling enthusiasts reading, traveling with the intention to understand the history of a place will make your experience much more worthwhile. It will forever change your perspective of the world and the people that reside in it.

“For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.” Aushwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945

 

Family Trip Abroad

The past week, my family came to visit me. It was very nice to see them, but it was even better to travel with them. My family has traveled a lot of the East coast of the United States, but we never traveled abroad together. My sister is the only one that ever got out of the country and that was because she studying abroad. We stayed in London for a few days where I took them around to the museums they wanted to see and the stores they wanted to go to, but then we were off.

Our first stop was Florence where my sister studied abroad. I have studied Italian for 6 years, but I never got the chance to actually go to Italy. Florence was by far my favorite city I have been to. The town is just so cute and small, yet so Italian. I am definitely going back there with my sister in a few years. The food was also very delicious. Also, for future reference, the streets are all cobblestones so don’t wear heels or shoes you care about because they will most likely get ruined. There are so many museums there and so many famous artworks there. I highly recommend everyone see Florence.

The final stop on our trip was to Rome. Rome was very different than Florence. Rome has historic sites very spread out where it is a long walk to each. We didn’t do much while we were there since everything is spread out, but what we did see was amazing. We went to the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. They were all beautiful, but we walked so much while we were there. If you go to Rome, make sure to pack sneakers and make sure you have a break at the hotel/hostel during the day.