As you all know, I was in Europe for 3.5 months. I have been home for over a week and the time for reflection on this dreamlike haze has commenced. Sometimes, I found myself asking other people “Is this real life?” Because, sometimes I felt like I was just waiting to be woken up from it all, because there’s no way it could have been real. From meeting friends all over Europe, to Paragliding off of an Austrian mountain, to traveling Europe by myself, to riding a gondola, to teaching Polish students English, to living life as a true vagabond, in a troop of what seems like wandering gypsies, I have learned about a million lessons. I’ll just share a few with you. I realize I showed you all a lot of where I have been and what I was doing but not a lot of what that did to me or how much I have changed so, here goes nothing. (No specific order in terms of lessons, all are equally important and intertwined.) Also, a blog about Rome is coming. When I got home I had to catch up on homework and write some final papers so, I’m working on it!
1. Always be yourself, do not conform. Once you start conforming and changing who you are to fit in, it will never end, it’s a slippery slope. By the end, you won’t even recognize yourself. Even though being yourself doesn’t always allow you into every social group, it’s a million times more gratifying to be accepted into a group for who you are. Also, if people don’t accept you, it’s not because there is something wrong with you, or even them really, you’re just different. Understand that being different is a good thing! Do not be ashamed of who you are, ever.
2. With that, understand that: There are people all over the world that will like you for who you are. There are amazing people out there, all you have it do is step outside of your small world to find them. If you have lived in the same city, same state, same country your whole life then you’ve probably been in the same social group as well. Surprisingly enough, there are people everywhere, outside of the place you are from and you may find them to be amazing. I met people on this trip from different countries, different cultures, different backgrounds, etc and after a week of knowing them, I felt like they were family. Sometimes you just click with certain people and you can’t explain why, you just do. Embrace it, find people that love you for who you are. It will help you be the best version of yourself. They will encourage that in you
3. Material things are trivial, unimportant, and when traveling, they are an added stress, physical baggage that you carry that makes you hurt all over and …sweat… It really isn’t worth it. Material things do not define you. I’ve seen some of the top designer stores all over Europe. I went to the fashion capital of the world, Milan and I strolled the champs élysées in Paris, passing by Chanel, Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, Prada, the list goes on for days, really it does but, I would see people buying things at those stores and I thought to myself, “Well, that’s one more thing that they have to worry about.” My only thought was that they would then be more weighed down, less free. I love things, I always have. I enjoy possessing nice materialistic belongings and I pride myself on looking the best I can, whenever possible. But, this trip has been the first step in teaching me the lesson I had heard all along… “You can’t take it with you when you die.” So, collecting things, giving physical space to fragments of my life is a waste. All that is important is people and experiences in the end. I can spend my whole life accumulating beautiful things but do you think that when/if I get to heaven, God will say, “Abby, you had a very cute wardrobe, such nice things you had.” No, I highly doubt it. But, he might say something about what I did for other people, what kind of person I was… How much I helped others to serve Him. Focusing on others can be the most enriching experience, finding that you don’t need those materialistic things can free you from selfishness.
4. People will make or break an experience for you. Just as I struggled with negativity, other people struggle with other things. It is very important to not only surround yourself with people you like but people who are as excited about something as you are. I’ve had a few experiences where I was with people who weren’t as excited about an experience as I was and it totally ruined it for me. Surround yourself with people who want to enjoy life with you.
5. Take a step back from the camera when traveling! Self explanatory, if you find yourself traveling anywhere, take pictures, sure, but also take a step back and put the camera down, look at what is in front of you and take it in. Take a mental snapshot of what you are seeing hadn’t remember the feeling, the moment. Enjoy it!
6. Self-growth is truly what the life process is all about. If you’re not growing, what are you doing? Don’t be stagnant. Keep trying to broaden your mind and expand your thinking! It is truly a disservice to yourself and the rest of the world to stay content with mediocrity.
7. Planning is useless. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good plan more than most but usually they don’t go accordingly anyways. The best days I had in Europe were the ones I stumbled upon when I was wandering. In the past I have been someone who puts a lot of stock into my plans and I generate high expectations which are usually dashed. I have learned to let God show me where to go because He knows better than I do what’s coming.
8. You can be as independent as you want but you need to realize you will always, always, always need community. Being in fellowship with other people is what makes life worthwhile. One of my favorite quotes is, “The price of being a sheep is boredom. The price of being a wolf is loneliness. Choose one or the other with great care.” This quote by Hugh Macleod truly showcases what the price of being on an extreme end is like. Live in the middle. Understand that being alone and independent is a blessing but share your life with people too.
9. Try to change the way you think about things. How you think about things is the most important thing in life. You can make your life a prison or palace depending solely on how you thin, how you respond and how you decide to look at a situation. You will be much happier if you choose to think differently, more positively.
10. Being a leader isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s pretty overrated actually… Be okay with not being a leader. That doesn’t mean that you’re a follower and it doesn’t mean that you’re a silent member in a group but instead not being a leader can allow you to express your opinions without the fear of having to appease everyone as the leader would. Being a leader means showing by example, making sure every member is heard, sometimes reserving your own comments to further group development. Not being a leader gives you the freedom to voice your opinion.
11. Home is where the heart is, but home is not a building. Home is where you make it, where you are with people that are close to your heart. I realized when I was in Europe that I had left my heart at home but after meeting Brooke, Francisca, Tomasz, Domi, Ania, My german class, countless other people, I realized I hadn’t truly left it at home. I had just simply chosen not to make Europe my home for those three months, but when I did, my oh my, did I enjoy it.
12. Life is only as exciting as you make it. Some people think that my European adventure was the most exciting thing to ever happen to me, and it was, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get bored. There were moments where I actively chose not to have a good time. I was in a new country more times than I could count and yet I found myself bored, that isn’t a problem with the traveling or the place I was, that’s a problem within me. Finding excitement isn’t about where you are, but who you are. I know people who can explore the city they have lived their whole lives as if it is some exciting new playground. Be like them and be excited in every moment God gives you.
13. Life goes on. It is more than okay to be sad sometimes, but note that I said sometimes, not all the time. MODERATION IS KEY for absolutely everything. Don’t do things in excess! The ancient Greeks knew it long before any of us, moderation is the key to a good life.
14. Remember through your little mess, how big you are blessed. Try to remember that things will be okay, you will be okay. God is always giving you grace, so give yourself a little. You are blessed.
15. Not everything is the end of the world. Realize what the big stuff is and what the small stuff is. Sometimes bad things happen, you lose something, or you don’t get invited to something, you don’t get exactly what you want. You’ll survive, just remember someone out there has it a lot worse than you. I witnessed a lot of homelessness in Europe and it made my heart ache. It really puts things into perspective for me. I truly appreciate all that I have and all that I am able to do. It would be a waste to not recognize it.
16. Flexibility is your friend. If you’re willing to be flexible, anything is possible. The most amazing things can happen if you just let go of some of that control you have your grip so tightly around. Predicting outcomes rarely produces anything except maybe disappointment.
17. When traveling, understand this: Less is more. Chances are if you’re in Europe or anywhere, you will want to buy tons of stuff because it is all so different and well, why not? But if you already brought with you a ton of stuff, then you won’t have much room for your new stuff. So pack light in both expectations and material belongings and see where life takes you. I can promise, if it takes you to Europe, you’re already winning.
18. LOOK UP, REALIZE THIS: PEOPLE AROUND YOU ARE GOING THROUGH STUFF JUST LIKE YOU. Surprisingly enough, you are not the only person on the planet that has issues and problems. That should be a comforting fact. But, my point is… look up, try to help, be there for people, they’ll hopefully in turn be there for you, just realize everyone is walking around with their own scars and many of them are still licking wounds that you have no idea about. Be mindful of others. Try to help if you can.
19. There are blessings in disguise everywhere. Try to look for them, be open to them and let God work in your life. Open your eyes.
20. At the end of the day, stuff is only stuff. Don’t place too much stock into earthly items and materialistic belongings, you can’t take them with you when you die anyways.
21. Don’t be too prideful. It will only leave you hurt, that moment when you’re too prideful to tell people how you feel or go that extra mile for someone or do anything… It’s too much and chances are God will call you out on it. Remember He knows the true you.
22. Realize that you cannot expect the same treatment that you give someone. I’m not refuting the golden rule here: treat others as you want to be treated but… you can’t expect someone to have the same strengths as you. You may be a very skilled interpersonal communicator but the other person does better in groups, you may think they aren’t interested in you but they just aren’t good at what you are good at. Also, say you are very skilled at being empathetic and you can cry with your friends because you care so much but you have a friend that isn’t capable of that, that does not mean they don’t care. All that means is that they are better at something else, like helping you process your thoughts or helping you solve problems. Accept people for what they are and the strengths they possess. Don’t be upset that they can’t love you exactly the way you want.
23. It is good to have moments when you realize how very small you are. When I was standing at 12,000 feet on top of the Swiss Alps or when I was floating amongst the mountains when I went paragliding or any of the countless experiences I had… I had moments where I just realized how truly small I was in comparison to the vast majority of creation. I am a blip on the radar yet the Lord knows the number of strands of hair on my head. The Creator who created all that I have seen, and more knows that much about me. Feeling small is good, it keeps you humble and in constant praise of the Creator.
24. Communication styles are different, adjust or move on. Some people are aggressive, some are reserved, some are confrontational, some are not, and the list goes on. If you don’t like the way someone communicates, understand it or move on.
25. Live a life you can be proud of. Make your mark.
My 24 hours in Milan.
Hour 1: When I first found out that my group would be leaving Venice for Milan for one night I was not happy… Yes, it is the fashion capital of basically the world but travel days in Europe are my worst days. Nonetheless, we piled on trains in Venice and headed to Milan. The train ride was uneventful and rather boring as they all seem to be and we all arrived in Milan on time. Once we got to Milan we had to drag our bags to the hotel which was not a fun 45 minutes. When we arrived at our hotel…
Hour 2: We walked in to find what seemed to be a pretty nice hotel until we were given our room keys. My roommates in Milan, Sarah and Layne and I followed the hotel receptionist to our room.. On this journey to our room we went outside, crossed an alley went up 4 flights of stairs past apartments and into our room… Which had to two lamps as lights and no heat. Keep in mind, Italy isn’t warm this time of year, especially not in Milan. So, we tried our best to settle in and get comfortable and then we got ready to do the only planned thing we had for Milan… A visit to the Duomo.
Hour 3 & 4: Spent these lovely hours at the Duomo which you can see below. The Duomo of Milan is a cathedral, the 4th largest in the world and it is overwhelming. We got to go on to its roof!!
Me on the roof of a cathedral that took 6 Centuries to complete.
It is the most beautiful thing to be up there because you can see the mountains in the distance and the whole city from above.
Brooke and I!
Hour 5: Then, after wandering inside the Duomo and roaming the roof we all went in search of dinner. I went with two guys on the trip, Michael and Tyler and my professor Ripley. We wandered past the stores and shops of Milan that don almost all designer labels… There truly is a Prada on every street corner and I heard one girl say as I passed her “It’s like Dolce and Gabbana own Milan.” their stores are EVERYWHERE. So, we window shopped and searched for food. The boys asked me a lot of questions about what any of these brands were and I did my best with my vast catalog of Vogue knowledge to explain to them.
Hour 6: So by this time it was almost 6:00 and we hadn’t really eaten so naturally we found a gelato place with the longest line we had ever seen for ice cream before and decided that was our best option, and boy was it ever! BEST GELATO I HAVE EVER HAD. I got dark chocolate and I never wanted it to end, the put chocolate in the cone and it is simply heavenly.
The boys really seemed to like it… As you can tell by the ice cream all over their faces.
Hour 7: We had about 2 hours before we had to be back at the hotel (Ripley, the guy in the hat above, our professor wanted to have class at 8ish) So, Michael and Tyler decided to head back to the hotel early and get a nap in so Ripley and I wandered and window shopped. I am starting to realize more and more how unique this trip is that I am on, I was able to wander the shop filled streets of Milan with my professor! How cool is that! We even went into Tiffany’s the jewelry store and critiqued the jewelry together. Times like that are just priceless and I realize how blessed I am to be on this trip.
Crowded streets of Milan. We watched that street performer there for awhile as he played Hotel California.
Then, Ripley spotted the Starsky & Hutch car in some store so we went in and took pictures. It was a fun time!
Hour 8-9: Headed back to hotel and had class.
Hour 10-17: SLEPT IN THE COLDEST ROOM EVER.
Hour 18: Ate breakfast.
Hour 19: Train station time.
Hour 20-24: TRAIN TO PARIS.
ARRIVED IN PARIS on Sunday and I have to say I am a little obsessed. I am leaving today to head to Geneva, Switzerland. I haven’t had Wi-Fi at all. The hotel in Milan didn’t have it and the Crowne Plaza in Paris charges for it so I haven’t been able to update this. I will hopefully write about Paris soon if my lodgings in Switzerland has Wi-Fi. More soon! Thanks for reading these.