5 Things I Learned About Myself My First Time Overseas
Travel always seemed like a sort of experience where you of course reveal things about yourself but you are mostly focused on learning about the surrounding environment.
Well, this wasn’t this case during my first time in Europe.
Visiting Austria, Hungary and briefly stopping in Slovakia I saw many buildings, people, food items, and modes of transportation that I’ve never seen before. There were even new sounds. In a world so new there was far too much to learn in such little time. Communication was obviously the first hump, next was navigating a transportation system where most of it was in another language.
I knew I would absolutely love my experience abroad, however; there were a few things that actually surprised me about myself.
♦ Here are just the key takeaways:
1. I am not as confident or brave as I thought
Look, I’m an Aries. Independent. Leader. Headstrong. Confident. Even so, I found that I’ve felt shaky in some situations. I toured Vienna and Budapest with a group. When the others felt too tired or simply unmotivated to go out I reasoned with myself that I should make the most of my trip and just go out on my own. So I did.
I traveled from the hotel to the inner city of Budapest. Although this was only a few subway stops away it felt like eternity to get to my destination. To make it worse, the subway system to the city closed at a certain time – I was unaware of this until I saw the closed gates. So the route that we took just hours ago (freshly in my memory) was no longer feasible. I had to figure out how to get to the city using the tram which was a new mode of transportation I had not traveled yet.
Oh yeah, plus it was night time. (If you’re reading this – Sorry Mom – I love adventure)
Anyway, I was confident in getting there but this twist in my planning made me a bit worried. It was a scary feeling. Everything was so unfamiliar aside from the shops here and there I remembered from earlier in the day. I ended up asking a couple of girls and they led me in the right direction.
It turns out that the transportation is easy to navigate if you know the general direction in which you’re heading. So, instead of taking the subway, I ended up taking the tram there and taking a bus back. Having triumphed a daunting experience I felt reassured of my capabilities. I knew I could navigate safely. I wouldn’t have attempted it if I didn’t think so. I could have turned back once I found the subway I needed was closed. Instead I kept going and I’m glad I did. I saw some nice sights and enjoyed just being in a new city with all of its beauty. I actually met some college girls from Michigan who invited me to their party. I didn’t go because it didn’t seem safe. But it was interesting running into other Americans on Spring Break in Vienna.
2. Your mental health travels with you
While on travels you can at time feels invincible. It can feel like you are in a new environment to only discover all of the beauty – never to discover any of the bad. Sometimes you forget that you are only a mortal instead of a superwoman and that you are living in the real world. With this, the condition of the body and the mind does not somehow magically prevail the trials of the environment. I learned this in subtle ways throughout my time abroad.
Back in the States I can easily feel anxiety wiping over me in day to day life. The tightening of the back, the clenching of the teeth, the choking and shortening of breath. It can be overwhelming if not well managed. Getting lost in a new and exciting environment filled with beautiful sights and delicious new foods can make a girl forget about real life struggles. However, with the help of a little mindfulness I caught myself when my fists clenched in my pocket or when my teeth clenched against each other. Those little signs of anxiety are different for everyone. It is important to pay attention to your body and listen to your mind. Find out what is triggering the anxiety, it’s physical reactions and why.
For me, it was just the feeling of rush while trying to reach a destination with the group. Other times it was the feeling of disruption from the norm. Being immersed into a new setting can be exhilarating but if not filtered well it can at times be overwhelming. It is important to know when to takes things slow and allow your mind and body to relax.
3. Your workout and diet regiment doesn’t allows travel with you but you can still take care of yourself
My first night in Austria I sat in my hostel room chatting with my roommate as I drafted my workout regiment. I was adamant and I had already been watching my diet starting at the airport! I wanted to challenge myself to keep up a good workout routine despite not even having a gym at the hostel.
The first night was rough: we had an overnight flight from Washington, D.C. to Vienna, Austria and as soon as we got off the flight there was a train ride to our hostel where our rooms weren’t ready until later that night after we’ve completed a walking tour of the city and a welcome dinner at a nearby restaurant. As anxious as we were to explore we ended up walking around the neighborhood and hitting the hostel bar on top of that. I didn’t get to my room to relax until sometime after 10pm.
Needless to say, there was no workout that day! In fact, I only had one real workout through the entirety of my trip. Without having a gym I was left to my own devices which consisted of using my 50lb. suitcase and my own body weight.
Anyway, I found that the trip went by fast and the days were extremely long. During our tours of the city we walked 10 to 15 miles daily – at least – and did plenty of partying and unguided exploration during our free time.
Without a strict regiment it was still possible to be well both physically and mentally.
The many miles of daily walking felt to be a lot of physical activity for me. Visiting the thermal baths of Budapest was an evening of relaxation. Practicing a good diet was another key component. Lastly, I was sure to keep tabs of my mental well being. Being aware of my feelings, perceptions, and physical or mental reactions to an ever changing environment as I encountered many new things was important to me. “Checking in” with myself kept me mentally and emotionally well. So, although I did not keep up my strict workout regiment I was sure to stay active, eat well, and be mindful of my mental health to ensure a happy and healthy self.
4. Communication isn’t such a huge barrier
Visiting countries in which I knew 0% of the local language was intimidating to me. I had heard from many other travelers that English is actually a common language throughout Europe. In fact, in many areas, the English translation is displayed on signs (airports, train stations, tourist areas). In less touristy areas I was left to Google Translate and loose sign language.
On my first day in Vienna we visited a mom-and-pop restaurant where our server did not speak English but it was clear she understood some. This confused on deciding how to communicate best. We actually managed to ask for an English menu (thank god she had a couple) and I was able to ask for the check via Google Translate. I used Google just because I wanted to challenge myself in trying to learn. That day I learned how to say “Separate check” just through the server saying it in German and using loose body language to illustrate what she was saying.
The terms I learned in that restaurant on the first day stuck with me on every food stop I did in Austria. My pronunciation of their language got better the more restaurants and shops I went to. Not only that, but the younger population knew English a whole lot better so this way I was taught how to say certain things through them instead of through Google Translate.
Body language was a key component however. Without this I would have been completely lost. You can read a person a lot better through their body (and sometimes facial expressions) rather than words anyway – whether you know the language or not.
I found it funny how quickly a few words in a language can be picked up and memorized once you’re completely immersed in another culture.
Additionally, smiles and a good personality go a looong way as well. Using this I think others were able to see I am only visiting to learn and enjoy their culture as I asked constantly “Wait, how do you say ‘thank you’ again?”
5. “Letting go” is necessary
Even though I learned that I am not as brave as I thought I also convinced myself that if I am fearful of being in a new city then I might as well have stayed in the US. With this notion I took my first shot of alcohol in Europe in an Irish Pub not far from Austria’s city hall. A group of us went and discovered how cheap – and easy – it was to get LIT in Europe (a shot was two euros and eighty cents or three dollars and 17 cents). We had just finished an amazing dinner so we were ready for some fun.
I know you’re probably thinking that I mean it’s good to lose complete control at all times. No. By “letting go” I do not mean become so loose and comfortable in a new environment that I become completely vulnerable to any and every dangerous threat. I only mean it is necessary to not be so uptight, to live in the moment, to just enjoy the adventure in which you are living! It isn’t everyday I can take a shot in an Irish pub in Austria, or visit a skybar overlooking the Viennese city with all its wonders.
We went to a sky bar after the Irish pub.
The funny thing about this is that I had to convince everyone to join my skybar adventure. At first, everyone wanted to finish drinking at the pub and then head back to the hostel to finish our night at the bar. This makes sense: everyone wanted to be somewhere familiar and safe while drinking. My philosophy of “letting go” does not work too well this idea though…
So, there I was convincing them that this moment will pass them and they will never have it again for the entirety of their lives. Ever. I even offered to pay for the Uber (a whole eight euros.. no biggie).
There we were.
In an Uber to the skybar.
More importantly we were doing it safely: we weren’t drunk and incoherent, we were together, and in an Uber where we couldn’t get lost in some strange part of town with no way back. Only two of us got in due to a dress code, but the others went back another day and loved it. The skybar was amazing and I was thanked for convincing everyone to just let go and enjoy. We developed new memories and a new adventure to keep with us for life.
So there you have it. These small concepts surprised me but I’m glad I learned them.
1) The drinking age in both Austria and Hungary is 18. However, those who drank alcohol in the experiences mentioned were over 21.
2) I am not licensed in therapy or in any field in wellness and health. Text surrounding these topics are based on personal research and experience. For professional guidance please consider consulting a licensed professional. For more immediate assistance, consider using one of the below hotlines.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
- National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) – 1-800-656-4673
- SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) – 1-800-662-4357
- Veterans Crisis Line – 1-800-273-8255