I know most study abroad students dread going back home, but I was ready to go back. Traveling, believe or not, is 60% stress and 40% enjoyment. Before arriving home in the States, I traveled to Athens (Greece), Rome (Italy), Budapest (Hungary), and London (UK). Let’s just say that every travel nightmare you could imagine happened to my brother and me during our trip.
Missed our flight? Check.
Had to pay to check our carry-on luggage? Check.
Got mobbed by selfie-stick and tour group vendors? Check.
It was definitely a learning curve for both of us. We can’t explain exactly why everything happened the way it happened. All we can tell you as fresh travelers is that you just have to keep calm and carry on. I kept repeating these words to myself during the entire trip. The best story to exemplify what my travels were like and how I emerged stronger, wiser, and utterly exhausted is our Rome story. Here’s how it went:
After the bus waved us off, my brother and I made our way along the dark streets to our hostel. We made our way with my phone glaring with low-battery warnings and picked up our pace when suddenly, we were hit with the strong smell of fresh urine. When we at last found our hostel, we dished out some extra Euro to pay city taxes that were not included in our initial booking. We were ready for some fluffy pillows by this point. I saw the open door to our mixed dorm room, walked in, and found five shirtless guys lazing around. I was the only girl. Sounds like a dream, but all I wanted was to freely strip out of my clothes, wear my fluffy PJs, and snore my heart away. After a long and surprise-ridden day, I longed for some comfort and privacy. But, I kept calm and carried on hoping for a more relaxing tomorrow.
The next morning we were ready for the amazing Rome experience everyone raved about. We grabbed our extra battery pack and set out for the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and the many Roman piazzas. My brother and I aren’t really big on having a fixed schedule. We like to have an idea of where we want to go and what places we want to see that day, but we welcome detours to hole-in-the-wall restaurants and signs pointing toward other cool looking places.
We ended up hitting a lot of tourist sites, gelato shops, and a hole-in-the wall bakery that had the most scrumptious desserts we’ve ever had. This was the Italy I had imagined. What I hadn’t imagined was how hard it was to find food. How can this be you may ask? Well, first we had to get lost. Friends have told us that the best Italian food were in the hole-in-the wall places hidden from the touristy areas. But somehow we always ended up right back on a bustling street. Maybe we weren’t trying hard enough or maybe subconsciously our fear of getting too lost led us back where we unknowingly wanted to be. Whatever our issue was, we were so hungry we sat down at the next restaurant on a semi-quiet street only to discover that it had been a tourist restaurant. After a couple of bites of the pasta, I had a King Kong roar moment. The pasta disappointed my Italy-expectations. But it was only our first day out and we were hopeful for the next meal.
Day 3 of Rome was the. most. challenging. day. It’s supposed to get easier right? But in order for this to be a reality, we should have hit the Vatican on day 1. We got up extra early and rushed to the subway in hopes of getting in line early for the museum tickets. Little did I know, it was rush hour, and the metro was PACKED. I tried to make myself as small as I could as more people streamed in with every stop, and eventually ended up underneath someone’s armpit. When we finally squeezed our way out, we walked to the Vatican only to be welcomed with a flood of questions. Questions seemed to fly from all directions – Are you a student? Do you know where you’re going? We have free information! Do you have a reservation? Sensing they were vendors, we quickly pushed our way past only to be stopped by a vendor who gave us her spiel. Thankfully, she told us that we were going in the wrong direction – that the museum was on the other side. We kindly declined her tour and headed off to the museum line only to be bombarded by more vendors.
At one point I responded in Korean just so they would leave us alone. It was honestly overwhelming. I felt like the guy in Temple Run where the vendors were the monster and my brother and I were the poor fellow running for his life. Getting in line was the worst because we were sitting targets. One vendor came up to us and tried to convince us the line was on the other side of the street and that the “discounted” cost for students was 28 euros! I thankfully did my research beforehand and knew that the EU student discount was 7.50 euros. After what seemed like endless “No thank yous” we were halfway up the line and finally got some peace.
The Vatican itself was amazing. Beautiful. Stunning as we had been told.
Rome was one of our early trips, so the obstacles that we faced with every step stuck out the most mostly because they were the first memories of our travels. However, although in the beginning our trip was 60% stress and 40% enjoyment, the percentage did change as the trip went on. We were exhausted, but each day we were able to walk a bit further. We had a better gauge of when to rest, where to eat, and who to ask for information. By the time we ended up in Budapest, we were eating all the traditional local foods, hitting up the tourist sites with ease, and ended up well-rested and financially sound at the end of the day.
St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest was particularly breathtaking.
The process in getting to the 90% enjoyment, 10% stress took longer than we expected, but I’ve learned that this is the main theme of a study abroad experience. You’re thrown into a new environment where you don’t know anyone or anything. All you have are your past experiences, instincts, a dying battery, and the flood of people around you. Although it was scary in the beginning, I’ve found that embracing my vulnerability and tapping the shoulder of the stranger in front of me for directions was usually the best next step for new travelers like my brother and me. The “worst” we’ve faced is when someone ran away because they couldn’t speak English (happened to us in Athens) and the best was when we met someone in line at a Hungarian restaurant and we ended up having an entire dinner conversation with them.
I am extremely grateful to have had the comfort and familiarity of being in a country that uses the same language and has similar cultural aspects and traveling around the EU definitely made me appreciate this fact ten times more. However, my travels were the final growing stretches I needed before arriving back home. Being back home has already made me appreciate all the comforts and joys of familiar things like homemade Korean food, my beautiful countryside town, DINERS, my fluffy blankets, and greatest of all – my friends and family who supported me throughout the journey.
Thank you to all who have followed me on this life-changing experience. I wish you all the best of luck in your next big step – I hope you get to travel someday as well and visit the places you’ve always wanted to – I hope you break your expectations of the things that have been romanticized and discover new loves that you never thought of before – but most importantly, I hope you have wonderful people to share them with along the way like you all have done for me. Thank you!! 🙂