Oh, to break free from the shackles of everyday life and venture forth into the unfamiliar.
I have been lucky enough to do two internships abroad, one in Lisbon and another in Amsterdam. I cannot stress enough how amazing these experiences have been for me and how much I’ve grown because of them. But even with the pleasure and excitement of extended travel comes the bittersweetness of it all.
1. You leave a piece of your heart in every place you’ve been.
You don’t have to equate leaving a place with heartbreak every time you move on from wherever you are, but sometimes, that’s exactly what it feels like. You meet all these incredible people with whom you share almost everything with: hilariously gut-busting stories about that one time you had one too many drinks, mutual admiration for the rich culture of the country you’re living in, late night adventures on the weekends and sometimes, even love. When you look back on your time abroad, your insides get all mushy and warm from the fond memories that you keep stored in your mind (partly thanks to rosy retrospection).
Over two years ago, I was in Lisbon doing a volunteer internship and that was where I met several other interns from all over the world. I will always remember the night before I boarded my flight to Paris from Lisbon. That was the night when all the interns went out to party together one last time before everyone went back to their respective countries. At the end of the night, everyone was saying goodbye and let me tell you, it was a messy affair. Tears were falling like Niagara Falls, our eyes were red and puffy and audible sobbing could be heard from our group. This scene was a stark contrast between the rowdy party-goers having a good time on the narrow cobblestone street lined with small bars and clubs. The trip to Paris was one last hurrah before I went back home to Canada. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fully appreciate the beauty and wonder of the city because the deep sadness I still felt about leaving Lisbon was still fresh, as new as a newborn baby. Ironically, I was traveling with a few of my good friends who I met on my internship, yet I still couldn’t help feeling depressed about being separated from everybody.
Your body may have flown home, but it takes a while for your whole your heart and head to leave the place you were last to join your physical self. Thank goodness for a little thing called the internet. Nowadays, it is so much easier to stay in contact with people who are a thousand miles away. Sure, the romanticism of sending a hand written letter by mail is practically nonexistent in the Information Age, but a Facebook message or a text over WhatsApp certainly has a mountain of advantages over a letter. No one has the time and money for such arduous labor anymore, right?
Another way to tend to your “broken heart”? Get your hands on some food native to the country you traveled to. In Portugal, the locals eat these famous pastries called pastel de nata. These mouth-watering, delicious egg tart pastries are akin to heaven on earth. I found out that I could actually get these treats in a few stores in my hometown. They obviously don’t possess the same freshness and quality as the ones in Portugal, but it’s nice to know that I can get a little piece of Portugal back at home.
2. You are forever changed but the people back home remain the same.
Your friends and family, as much as they love you and as much as you love them, don’t always want to hear about how amazing your experiences were or how “cultured” you are now (how pretentious and hipster of you!). Even if they have a genuine interest in your travels, it’s difficult for them to relate to you most of the time. This is a natural part of coming back home after an extended time away. How could people so removed from your experiences be totally in tune to your thoughts and feelings? Sure, you had your Skype calls and online chats every so often, but whatever they know about your life abroad is only the tip of the iceberg. They have their own busy lives to tend to after all. It can be frustrating at times (correction: a lot of the time).
Before venturing abroad, I didn’t really have a grasp on the international community at home. In my classes at university, there were exchange students, but to be perfectly honest, being a part of the international community wasn’t appealing to me. It wasn’t unappealing either, it was just…there. Now that I have done a little bit of traveling, international organizations and people from abroad have this shine to them that I didn’t notice before. Depending on where you live, you can search for international organizations to join where you can meet all different types of people that you can relate to and share similar experiences with.
Sometimes you end growing apart from those that you used to call your best friends. A slow death of a friendship is undoubtedly sad but if there’s a natural distancing, then there’s nothing you can do about it besides accept it and move on. Luckily, that’s not what happened with me, but this is often a sad reality for others.
3. You constantly crave more.
If you want to travel, and not just for leisure purposes, but to immerse yourself in another culture, language and people while experiencing personal growth in the process, you’ll have wanderlust running through your veins. Once you start, you won’t likely want to stop. It’s not something that you just “get out of your system;” it becomes a way of being and thinking. It’s who you are now. Next week, you might be venturing on a two-month-long backpacking trip across Europe. Even if you’ve dragged your feet along ten different countries devouring all the delicacies that each has to offer, soaking in the sights and sounds, conversing with all the interesting characters you meet along the way, learning about all the quirks of the cultures unique to each place, make no mistake, you’ll just want to do it all over again. And why wouldn’t you? The allure of exotic lands, discovery and adventure doesn’t just vanish into thin air. The world is so rich with beauty (and ugliness in equal measure) that there’s no way you can see it all in your lifetime. I liken it to having a cookie and wanting the whole jar.
Everyone’s situation is different, however. If you have an obligation that requires you to stay still for while or if your finances can’t afford you another plane ticket to fly to the other side of the world, then that makes the itch to travel even more palpable. The fact that your next great adventure abroad is not as attainable as you’d like it to be makes the prospect of it that much more appealing. As they say, people want what they can’t have.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to discover the beauty that the world has to offer, but on the other hand, we should also concentrate more on we do have. Speaking for myself, even if I complain every so often, I still consider myself spoiled and extremely lucky to be in the position I am despite the hardships I have faced. I will be the first one to admit that I should be more appreciative, but this is something I am constantly working on. This goes for anyone who is lucky enough to enjoy a high standard of living and opportunities that are not available to everybody.
Even after exploring all these new places and wanting to continue the adventure (the yearning to step foot on foreign soil becomes more intense as time goes on), I have a much greater appreciation for my hometown, the people I love and the little things in life.