A few months ago, Josh and I did an episode of our podcast, Overrated/Underrated, about what we like and don’t like about travel. When that episode went live, my awesome blogging buddy, Bill, reached out to me and said that he would love to write a collaboration post about travel. He sent me this quote about Switzerland (from this article) that had absolutely inspired him along with the amazing piece that he wrote about it:
“Your travel takes up a week, but that week is a physical space, a bubble, a monastery in time where everything has meaning, particularly in a place like Switzerland, where everyone is kind and everything runs on time and life feels easier than it ever has before. And you begin to have the sort of space to think thoughts that are bigger than the day and the week and the month and what time the kids get picked up. The gift of travel is to think about your life. The prison of travel is that your thoughts about your life remain in the country where you had them.”
I experienced this “travel bubble” throughout most of my college career, both while studying on campus and while studying abroad.
I thought that I would love going to college. I had always been so focused on my academics, and this next step was an important progression for my academic career. I was excited to become more independent, learn new things, and have more experiences on my own. Much to my chagrin, within the first day, I realized that I hated being away from home. I had experienced some of this homesickness while going abroad in high school, but at least then, I knew I’d be home in 2 weeks and everything would go back to normal.
Back to normal.
When I got to college, however, I realized that nothing would be my then-current definition of “normal” ever again. After college, I would probably go to graduate school, possibly even farther away. My house wouldn’t be my home again…I was already hardly living there now. Sure, I was only 3 hours away from my house, but I might as well have been on another planet. Every day I struggled with being away from home and realizing that my normal was changing. And I am really not great with change.
Obviously, my depressed and anxious brain was being over-the-top. Things were changing, but not as swiftly as I feared. While I was primarily worried about my external life and my definition of “home” changing, most of the changes I was going through were internal. The longer I lived on my own, the more I formed my own identity away from my family and my hometown. I started to form and understand my own personality traits, opinions, and things that I liked. Being even 3 hours away really changed my perspective and helped me to come into my own. And I didn’t realize just how much I had changed until I visited home.
While I was definitely evolving on campus and finding my “new normal,” any progress that I made there seemed to be no match for the old patterns waiting for me back home. I remember coming home for several college breaks feeling as though any progress that I made on myself was immediately lost when I walked through my front door. Like the writer of the post about Switzerland, my changes and new perspective seemed to want to stay where I initially had them, not come home with me.
On campus, I worked on becoming more accepting of my body. Coming home, I immediately regressed to obsessing about my food intake and feeling insecure. After several weeks on campus, I would feel more comfortable being away from home. After one weekend home, I would still go back in tears. There was no denying that it was harder to keep up with changes that I made on campus when I got home. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that College-Renata and Home-Renata were two different people, but the differences were so acute that it sometimes felt that way. It was already difficult to maintain changes going to college 3 hours away from home, but it was infinitely harder to maintain those same changes after coming back from being abroad.
I studied abroad twice in college, once for a summer in Spain, then for a semester in France. As a homebody who could hardly handle going back to campus, I was insanely worried about going abroad. I knew that the transition period would be tough, and I wasn’t sure that I would ever actually acclimate to living abroad. I remember thinking that I might suffer irreparable damage to my mental state by pushing myself too far. During those first few weeks, I didn’t know how I would ever feel comfortable so far away from home. Being on campus was one thing, but being in an entirely different country was another.
Of course, I did eventually adjust to living abroad, and I enjoyed my time in Europe very much. At home, my friends, family, and I could comfortably drive to our desired destinations, and at college, I stayed within the bubble of campus, going to familiar buildings and walking familiar paths. Abroad, however, I learned how to navigate public transit with ease, took courses in an unfamiliar university surrounded by professors and students who didn’t speak English, and thrived despite the challenges.
Going away and learning how to function in a different environment also showed me which of my habits stick with me no matter where I am. While abroad in France, for example, I still craved comfortable human contact. I made two really close friends, and I wanted to spend every possible moment with them. Every day, I asked if they were free, and whenever they weren’t free, I chose to stay inside at my host parent’s house and chat with friends back home. Since so much of my personality changed to help me live comfortably abroad, it was interesting to see this similarity. What can I say, no matter where I am, I want to build meaningful relationships and have deep, thoughtful conversation!
When I returned home, I was predictably back to my old habits. I still remember returning to campus after Thanksgiving break and sobbing on my friend’s shoulder on the shuttle. No matter how much progress that I had made while I was abroad, it essentially dissolved as soon as I was stateside. All of my anxieties about being out in the world came flooding back. While living in Europe had expanded my world and my bubble, it snapped securely back into place when I got home. What now would give me extreme anxiety used to be my daily life. I traversed cities all by myself, speaking only French or Spanish. The thought of doing this now fills me with dread and fear. I’d hate to think that I left my courageous self across the Atlantic, but I couldn’t imagine being Abroad-Renata now.
Writing this piece has reminded me how much I was able to grow through travel. Without the crutch of being in a familiar place and surrounded by familiar people, I was forced to adapt and become more certain of myself. I think it’s important to remember that no matter how you change, whether you’re at home or traveling, those changes are still you. Even if traveling through Toulouse via bus and metro while speaking only French seems terrifying now, I know that I’m capable of it.
Travel. Push yourself within your limits. Then come home and give yourself space to bring home some of the lessons that travel-you learned. Then, you never have to abandon that travel bubble. Or the chocolate croissants…mmmm chocolate croissants…
You can find Bill’s post about travel here!
Photography by my talented fiancé. You can find him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/hope_grows_here/