Indiana University Overseas Study

“It’s always good to remember where you come from and celebrate it. To remember where you come from is part of where you’re going”

-Anthony Burgess-

Dallas/Fort Worth. Prism Watermelon gum for dinner and a Starbucks glassed, mocha Frappuccino to wash it down. Mainmast keep vigilant! Watch mizzenmast off starboard, unfurl them topsails! Outta the fo’c’sle you yellow-bellied sons a’ Mollys! Or so I imagined the voyagers of old made their way to London.

Then it’s the layaway in Heathrow. Puddle jumper to Vienna four hours later. Enough time to catch a cup of tea and maybe a bit of the Evening Standard (or whatever papers they have here). Then I’ll have to turn my mind to cartographical matters, and learn the names of the Strassen and the Bahnhof and whatever else these countries might see fit to throw at me.

Note, dear reader, that foreign terminals in which they speak your same language are just as stressful if not even more so than navigating the completely foreign ones. One gains a bit of leeway in Germany. You’re a tourist and you’re trying your hardest, and if you muck up you’re doing only an embarrassment to yourself. British airports however are possessed of such dignity that one tiny mishap threatens to call over the eloquent wrath of the constables. And then, if you do manage to lose yourself in Britain, the glares, the poshy sneers, the tea glasses and elevated eyebrows glowering in disgust, all remind you that you have done both yourself and your native tongue a gross embarrassment.

My advice upon arrival is to therefore project confidence. European confidence. Dress nice. Be punctual. Lots of cheers and no worries. If you are able to fake a foreign accent legitimately, then by all means do it. I’m not saying to be ashamed of your American-ness, but only to make sure that you have girded yourself appropriately enough that snooty anti-States comments do not get in the way of you enjoying your blessed cappuccino.

And you are, after all, the weary traveler, so why should you care about a little fib here and there? I told my fellow Starbucks interlocutor that I was seeing cousins in West Sussex and was a devout patron of the Daily Mail just so that I’d receive a warm reception.

Your contacts are smeared with sleep-glue. Your throat is dried with industrialized air-sealed orange juices and your hunger pangs are accentuated with a triangle of gluey cheese and Styrofoam cups of atrocious coffee. Once you get off the jet, unspoken terminal laws state that you shouldn’t (temporarily) have a care in the world.

Important note: Discontinue the accent while flashing your passport.

Final note, before I trundle off to well-deserved sleep, is not to overly romanticize your departure. The whole finding of true love on a 12-hour flight, writing your magnum opus on a train through God’s Green County (just because George Gershwin did it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to as well).

I realize it sounds silly, and yet I victimized myself by choosing to naively navigate the Austrian subway system completely unaided, just because I thought it would be a lark. Without the aid of a wonderful Johannesburgian, a couple useful phrases I had been sure to memorize, and a lucky run-in with a similarly confused American, there is little doubt that now I might be in Slavic country attempting to banter myself back into Vienna with only a broken Pimsleur knowledge of Czech.

Now my dear reader, you may be wondering as to the point of such pessimism so aggressively written so soon out of the floodgates, so I shall quickly get to the heart of this second luscious blog post.

New beginnings are wonderful things, but they are slaves to reality as is everything else. Those who fear and fret and worry about the pre-departure and mid-departure, having wondered for weeks how to best culturally assimilate, how to achieve foreign fluency, how to excel in the new job or the new internship (we’ve heard it all before), need hearken to my call of liberation. It is thus: Things will not go according to your divine plan, and the only true way to effectively serve yourself is to accept it.

It’s surprisingly easy. If you miss your connection, spill your coffee, slam a local in the face with your hat box (regrettably, there are no pictures), or generally find a way to make a fool of yourself, I recommend several big breaths and then a good twenty-second chuckle at your own mistake (and perhaps an apology as well). And once you’ve liberated these worries from your guts, then do as the Europeans do; shoulder your pack and keep soldiering on.

Because, my traveling dears, the truth is that worrying should be the least of your worries.

 Cheers to you, and all your undying days!

View all posts by Brandon

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