|Collage of some of my favorite places in Europe.|
I have seen so much of the word, but it still feels like I have seen so little of it. I feel like I have both become wiser to the "ways of the world" and simultaneously realized how little I know about all but a few things. I think I could travel and study forever and still feel the same way.
I think what I have really gained is the ability to understand how complex, rich and utterly different a culture can be while realizing that people are very similar. I think my Italian host dad said it best, "Cultures are different. People are the same." Ultimately, everyone wants the same thing from life. They want to take care of the people they love and want to be happy. Everybody faces that same crap: politics, religion, traffic, drama with friends and family--the details may change, but in the end, it's all the same thing. After living with four different families this year, one being my own, one in Manhattan, one in Italy and one in New Zealand, I feel certain that I could live with a "normal" (if such a thing actually exists) family from any country on Earth, and after adapting to different cultural standards, feel perfectly comfortable.
Knowing the goodness of people takes the world from being a scary, foreboding place, to a place where people want to help you and genuinely want to know you. I'm not saying you don't have to be wary while getting out, but it has cemented my belief that the world is inherently a good place, and people are kind. If I ever was, I am no longer scared of places that are different from what I know because I know that most people, at worst, will ignore me, or at best, will go out of their way to help me.
For example, I have been lost in almost every single city I have visited. Sometimes it was on purpose... a lot of times it was not. From the back alleys of Venice (on purpose) to the slums of Naples and Genoa (on accident), I have found people willing to go out of their way to help me find my way even when I was wary of them.
Realizing the depth of goodness in people has also led me to greater awareness of myself. I feel challenged to become one of the selfless people I have encountered. And even though I continually fail to do that, I have learned so much about who I am as a person. However, this knowledge, instead of making everything in my life more clear, has made my sense of self murkier because I realized I am capable of more than I ever thought.
Reading back through my blogs, I remember meandering through Saronno (I didn't realize until I left that this is the same Saronno as where amaretto was invented. How cool is that?) from one train stop to the other. I felt so incredibly competent. Now, I am not trying to suggest that finding my way through a random city in Italy where I don't really speak the language and don't have a map isn't an impressive thing, it's just that I did it so many times after that, it seems common place now.
I've gotten lost in so many random cities that the whole idea seems more thrilling to me than scary (After all, safe travel is only a cab ride away.) I forget that before I went to Paris, was handed a map and literally forced to figure out how to navigate, ("well you took us a really long way, but I guess we got there eventually") I had never done such a thing in my life. Reflecting on the year has made me realize just how far I've come and makes me wonder just how far I have yet to go.
And I have to wonder what I would do differently if I could do it all again. My instinct is to say that I would get lost a lot less. And on the surface, that seems like it might be a good thing. But those times when got off the train unsure even of such basic facts as what city I was in, got taken advantage of by scam artists, and talked to a man with red teeth are what really made me grow. Seeing museums and eating authentic food certainly makes for good stories, but if I hadn't struggled my through living in two countries (especially Italy), I'm not sure if I would be the same person.
Before I traveled, I used to know that I am good at X,Y and Z, and I am not good at all these other things. But since I have been almost reduced to tears in Milan, pulled muscles walking through Venice and been yelled at in Germany (and Italy several time, but I attribute that more to the Italians' love for yelling than any particular transgression of mine), I have learned that I can do and survive so much more than I ever imagined I could.
This knowledge may have muddled my ideas of what I want to do with my life and where I want to live (spoiler: I have NO clue), but it has given me a much richer sense of myself. I have found so much more strength and self respect. My journeys this year, good and bad, have profoundly changed me. So, if you'll allow me to be cliche and (mis)quote one of my favorites songs, "who can say if I've been changed for the better? I do believe I have changed for the better... but I have been changed for good."
So, as friends, family or random internet go-ers, I thank you for your support through my travels, and I sincerely hope you have had a fantastic 2013 and that 2014 is even better. Happy New Year!