1: You become two people.
The singular person you were before you left divides into two and each one feels like it belongs in different places. It feels like there is another Emily still in England, wrapped in a wool scarf, tripping on cobblestone, buying Austrian vanilla wafers for 75p.
2: The way you see your own country changes.
I appreciate things I never previously noticed and I notice things that bother me. I was visiting my cousin and her friend in Spain and the three of us went to La Fería in Sevilla. There were women clad in traditional flamenco dresses and tall structures of lights standing in rows for miles. Around each corner, under spouts of water, there were fresh slices of coconut for sale. In the tangle of rides, there was one called Barca Vikinga. It was like any regular Viking Ship except on either side were tall metal cages – each the size of a large closet. Basically, you stand inside as the ship rises and flings itself nearly horizontal to the ground. My cousin is pretty crazy and as the ship gained speed and began to reach its highest point, she started to fling her body into the air.
I decided to do the same and, dude, I was terrified. As the ship pulled us higher above the fair, I let my body float with the loss of gravity. I was screaming so loud, I turned to the alarmed boys near us and yelled, “¡Lo siento!” When we finally walked off the ride, my hair looked like the end of a broom and my stomach was liquid. We never would have been able to do that in the States. Over here rides are fun but they’re also buckles and height requirements and liabilities. Immediately after us, I watched a girl no older than six climb into one of the cages with her family. Different cultures, I guess!
3: You resist the temptation to splurge on certain things.
I used to go to Tesco, which is a cheaper-end grocery store chain in England. They had a small section in the back, sort of a poorly lit aisle, dedicated to American foods. It had it all: Hot Fudge PopTarts, blue Gatorade, Skippy peanut butter, M&M’s – snacks you couldn’t find anywhere else. I remember the first day I saw Captain Crunch’s mustached face smiling at me from the shelf. I practically high-fived him. I was looking for syrup because I was hosting my Hong Kong friends and they had never had french toast before. “Heck yeah, Aunt Jemima, we are going home.” But as I grabbed the small bottle I noticed the price: £8. I nearly cried; twelve bucks for a bottle of syrup! I bought it though, because who eats french toast without syrup? After that day I never went back to that aisle. As much as a craved a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, I refused to spend my savings on overpriced American food.
4: You start to get a sense of how other people view your country.
During a week trip in both France and Ireland, I talked to taxi drivers who randomly told me they would never go to the States. “I’d be shot down on the street, it seems!” Said a plump Irish driver as we drove through Dublin. “Anyone can get a gun over there. I’ve never even held a gun. The only guns I’ve ever seen are the ones on the telly!”
5: There’s a huge focus on environmental conservation.
Most of Europe charges for plastic bags at stores so you’re motivated to bring your own. It’s just a natural custom over there but for me it’s the easiest way to reduce your ecological footprint. At first I was like, “Crap, I’m never going to remember to bring my backpack every time I get food.” But sure enough, it became an inherent part of my weekly routine. It was as regular as brushing my teeth.
6: Traveling sets you apart from the other things in your life.
When on a water bus in Venice, feeling salt air on your face, you’re not thinking about work or supervisors or budgets or bills or relationships or payments or rent. All you can think of is, “This water is so bright, it hurts my eyes.” I’ll never forget sitting on a city bus in southern Germany as it followed its way up twisting roads and thicks of forest. The sky was so clear. I didn’t think about my future or the classes I was taking or the grades I needed or my resume or a career. The only thing I thought was, “This makes me happy to be alive.”