It’s been a month since I returned home from a two-month study abroad trip in Ireland. I’ve always wanted a study abroad experience, and I got it. But after two months, I was so ready to come home. The magic of Europe faded as the constant motion of travel wore me down mentally and physically.
I chose to study abroad in Europe out of curiosity. After all, many people dream of living and traveling there. My friends and I spent most of our two months interning in Dublin, but we flew off to various places during the weekends. It was two days in Kerry, back to Dublin for a week, three days in Barcelona, then back to Dublin for another week, etc.
By the time we finished our program and flew to Paris and Florence for a real week-long vacation, I was used to seeing new cities. It was the same routine every time. Find transportation to City Center from the airport or train station. Fumble with the map. Sprint our way to the next destination so we have time to visit all the important landmarks within two days. Every new city was a similar but daunting challenge.
But the experience in Paris and Florence made me intensely uncomfortable. In Ireland or Scotland, I had no trouble with people at all. But as soon as we began our journey to Paris, all hell broke loose.
If you go to France or Italy, everyone, including parents, hostel hosts, public signs, and everyone else, will warn you to guard your belongings from pickpockets. I remained in a constant state of paranoia during the whole trip, but I let my guard down for a few moments at a museum, and my passport disappeared into someone else’s pockets.
Applying for an emergency passport was only one out of many annoyances I encountered. As I walked through the streets with my two Asian girlfriends, men shouted “ching chong” and “ni hao” at us. We stood in lines for hours under the sun just to enter museums with more crowds. We dealt with shameless line-cutting Chinese tourists who didn’t care one bit that everyone else had been waiting patiently in line. We were flat out robbed while waiting for a train in Rome.
Being tourists in Western European cities wore us out. By the end of our week, we were glad to pack up and return to San Francisco.
Europe wasn’t an altogether disastrous experience. I still enjoyed my time studying abroad and exploring new places. But the naive glamour of traveling through Europe was replaced by overwhelming fatigue. I was tired of avoiding pickpockets, smelling cigarette smoke, and cringing at every “ni hao” I heard.
I thought back to how I felt coming home from my backpacking trip last summer with my Venture crew. By the end of it, I was relieved to no longer be trekking through the wilderness on blistery feet. But I missed the tranquility of nature with all my heart. I missed hiking for miles on end with thoughts only of reaching the next destination and wondering where the other crew was. My enemies were mini-bears, lightning, and sub-par trail food instead of robbers and racist foreigners.
Navigating the wild last summer with only a backpack full of supplies required skills that pushed me to learn about myself. When I was on the mountain I felt strong, motivated, and smart. When I came home to running water and comfy sofas, I felt like a useless lump.
I probably would have enjoyed the cities more if I had also experienced more of the European countryside. I have fond memories of the Irish landscape from my tour bus windows, green and dotted with sheep. Most of what I remember of Barcelona, Paris, and Florence are grungy metro stations and crowded tourist sights. I enjoyed everything I saw, but the relentless pace I pursued in these urban cities made me feel trapped by time.
In nature, there is more time and space. In nature, there are no masses of hot sweaty tourists, paralyzed by the confining space of the Palace of Versailles. In nature, I can properly breathe. When the endless days of city sightseeing becomes a chore, I remind myself that the rivers extend to somewhere beyond the man-made landscape, waiting for me to go there.
Of course, I know that travel experiences are not supposed to be perfect or easy, especially in large cities. And I admit that nature would be a lonely place without the people I love. It may be a while before I fully realize the impact Europe has had on me. But for now, it’s good to be home.