Allison Nekola – Global Correspondent
I trembled stepping off the plane. Eyes wide open I gasped for air as I gazed out my window into mountainous scenery.
Fast-forward to my first adventure on my own, the sites and sounds of downtown filled the air and historic buildings captured the beauty of an ancient village encompassed in a modern city. My breathing was heavy and fast for the first week.
I feared that it would not be possible to experience everything Lugano, Switzerland had to offer, to receive everything Europe had to offer, and to be happy again when I landed back in the States.
I had already drunk from a glacier-waterfall, smelt fresh bread baking in the streets, tasted salami freshly packaged from a mom and pop farm a half hour up the mountain, but there was so much more to be done.
Then came my inevitable boredom. After three weeks of the same city streets, views, and landscapes it was easy to assimilate into the culture and feel as if I’ve lived here my whole life. It was a hard-hitting fact that I was no longer a tourist.
Soon I lived and did the same things everyday. Time helped me realize people are working, shopping in department stores, comforting crying children and doing things you see everyday in any other city ever.
The only difference is in the company I’ve gained (and hope to keep gaining) while living abroad and how they’ve made me feel. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I felt these words made sense out of all the confusion and fear bottled up inside of me. Sure it was amazing to see waterfalls of crystal clear water ready to drink, and of course it was fun to go to the clubs and visit the historical sites but all this goes away when I leave.
I couldn’t possibly pack the sites of Europe in my suitcase when I board that plane. I couldn’t take the “real” and “authentic” places I found when going exploring in new territories. Flowers and mountains became pictures but those who haven’t seen with their own eyes don’t feel the rush.
I remembered the feelings the company I shared gave me when I was homesick or stressed, or the happiest I’ve ever felt. I remembered the achievement of someone who overcame their fear of heights to jump 35 feet off a rock thanks to my help and how we held hands to jump though I had only known her name for 48 hours.
I felt cramps from laughing so hard until I cried, knowing we may never speak again. I sang along to my favorite songs I only listened to in the comfort and privacy of my room with a stranger who so happens to be a huge fan too. I clenched my hands when pompous Europeans gawked at the idea of being Czech or Italian when in their eyes I am only an American.
My first impressions were wrong. I believed the sites and sounds of the cities would bring me happiness or eating fresh food in Italy would create a fantasy world that I’d never want to leave from. But it’s the company I received here and the feeling of a home away from home with strangers.