1. How to Accept People for Who they Are: Traveling to so many vastly different places over the course of the semester has allowed me to see firsthand how unique each country is. With that, I've learned to try to look at cultures with less judgment. Instead of comparing every place I've been to America, I've become much better at just accepting and appreciating the differences in our cultures. Yeah, some things might seem very strange at first, but that doesn't mean it's wrong or bad, just that it's different. Of course, I've also done better at just accepting other people or MUDECers. I've definitely been frustrated at times with the conduct and behavior of some of the other Miami students here, but spending so much time in close proximity with everyone allows you to see people in many different lights. I don't know, I'm beginning to believe that there is a little good in everyone. Maybe it's because I've spent a lot of time with a lot of very, very unique people, but I feel like I can better relate to anybody now. And that is definitely a good thing, for what is life but the vast and mysterious web of interpersonal connections?
2. Alcohol isn't All Bad: Before coming to Europe, I had only had a few drinks (all of which I consumed legally with my parents), and I'll admit, I had a somewhat negative bias towards people who drank, probably because almost everyone I saw drinking was drinking illegally. I do not like to break laws. That hasn't changed. But, I have gained a new found appreciation and respect for alcohol and the people who consume it - as long as they do so responsibly. Europeans have a completely different perspective on alcohol usage. There is a strong connection between alcohol and food, and alcohol and relationships. People just drink with their meals, and don't make a big deal out of it. I promise you, the taboo effect is what causes so many underage people to drink in America. You take the rebellious aspect out of it, and people just do it responsibly. At many bars, you'll see 16 and 17 year old kids drinking, but they don't binge drink like college students in America do. They just take their time and enjoy each other's company. I've learned a lot about alcohol since I've been here, and I think that education makes me respect and appreciate it more.
3. A Calm Head and a Flexible Attitude are the Most Important Things to Bring With You When You Travel: Yeah, things are going to go wrong at times, in fact, things go wrong a lot. But, it does you absolutely no good whatsoever to panic. Trust me, there will always be somebody else who is going to panic, but a group needs someone to think clearly and calmly. I got myself into a couple harrowing situations such as having had my bed on an overnight train double-booked in Germany, having to spend the night in Břeclav, and not knowing where our hostels were in various places, including Zurich and Brussels. But through all of it, I never panicked, and that was a huge benefit to my own personal sanity and the collective mental state of the group.
4. You Can Communicate with Anyone:
Walking around anywhere in Europe (except the UK or Ireland) you probably won't hear a lot of English being spoken aloud. However, English is the most common second language in the world, so almost every single person speaks some English. That being said, I cannot stress enough how much of an advantage you will have if you can speak one other language. For me, the ability to speak French came in handy several times. For example, that first weekend trip to Brussels and Bruges, if I hadn't had been able to speak French to the ticket guy in Arlon, we would have ended up paying way more for our tickets than we did. Also, learning another language (German) was incredibly valuable. For when it came down to it, that crazy night in Břeclav, if I hadn't been able to speak basic (read: broken) German, we may not have had a place to sleep that night. It is completely worth it to learn at least some of the basic phrases and words in the language of the place you're staying. People so much appreciated my attempts to speak their language everywhere we went - that was a pretty interesting cross-cultural observation I made. It didn't matter if we were in France, Poland, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, whatever - people everywhere appreciate the effort. In the worst possible cases, where there is a complete language barrier (which never actually happened to me), gesturing and drawings can be used to communicate. In all reality, communication between any two humans is not that challenging, no matter where you are.
5. People are Not All that Different:
Going along with the lack of a general language barrier, I've come to realize that people in general are really not all that different. I mean, so many things, especially laughter, is universal. Happiness is widespread across the world. I don't know, maybe I thought people would be bummed out because they didn't live in America or didn't have our freedoms, but most people seem to be pretty darn content. It seems strange looking back now, but I really don't think it was that hard to assimilate into European culture either. I think our society, in America at least, places too much emphasis on the differences between cultures and not on the similarities. I mean, it was sometimes work to try to find differences between Americans and Europeans. All in all, I've come to the conclusion that people from anywhere can relate to people everywhere.
6. Travel Brings out People's True Personalities:
Yeah. You can tell a lot about a person by how they act under pressure. A smart man (Martin Luther King Jr.) once said something to the effect of "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." True story - when you get people out of their comfort zone, as happened almost every weekend, you see people for who they are. Some people can act calm and composed and friendly around the Chateau or in class, but get them walking around a strange city with no breakfast, and you find out who the good ones are. I wonder what other people thought of me, based on our travels, because I certainly formed opinions as to the character of others. It is fascinating indeed, that you get people out of place and they might change so drastically. Fascinating, and I would even go as far as to say mildly entertaining at times.
7. I can do Anything:
That's what's up. four months ago, I was terrified - terrified that I would be living in a strange and foreign country, with nobody I knew that well, in a strange home, traveling all over Europe. Now, it doesn't seem like such a big deal. I was pushed, challenged beyond what I could have ever imagined, but I held my own. I managed any problems I faced (or at least I thought so) and passed with flying colors. Twas indeed a testament to my upbringing and personality that I was able to handle myself as I did. I felt like I grew up a lot over the past semester. I did so many great things, with so many great people. I have memories that will last a lifetime and I already miss it. All in all, totally worth it, a million times over.