I was thinking about it today, and I think at this point I’ve spent approximately eight months of my life abroad. From the legitimately life-altering impact of the Italy 2002 trip to last summer’s World at Play expedition, I’ve had experiences that many never have the opportunity or the luck to have for themselves – and I’m truly grateful for that. Unfortunately, reminding myself of how much I have to be thankful for does nothing to abate my ever-present itch to be outside the United States. One of my life goals is to live outside the US – at least part time – and this summer is an important step in that direction. Up until this point, my time abroad has never been representative of real, every-day life – my summer study abroad experience in Spain was close, but even then I was just going to school for half a day and having fun the rest of the time. This summer is my first chance to see what it would actually be like to live and work outside the United States. I’ve wondered in recent months if part of the reason I so long for travel is because of the fact that travel life isn’t real life – it’s an escape; you can travel relatively anonymously, doing things you don’t usually get or choose to do when you’re home; and most of all, you’re away from the things that normally stress you out. That can’t be entirely the case this summer given that I’m working full-time. If my experience today is representative of my entire internship here, I’d say that this will far surpass any professional experience I’ve had up to this point. And who can say why exactly that might be – is it that the ICTY itself is just really great? Is it that I’m finally working for the UN or working in law? Maybe it’s great because it’s abroad. It’s hard to separate those things. Regardless, I look forward to seeing how my stress level and overall quality of life adjust to this new version of life outside the U.S.
Living here alone will bring some interesting opportunities for self-reflection as well. I’ve often talked about wanting to travel solo; I’m extremely independent back home and have been anxious to test that out as a solo traveler. Being by yourself in a foreign place isn’t easy, particularly if there’s a language barrier. (Everyone can speak English here, but signs and menus are all in Dutch, which at this point is still unpronounceable and wholly unfamiliar to me.) There are a few real-life things I have to do while I’m here: open a Dutch bank account (because American credit cards are generally not compatible with new technology being used here), get a cell phone, set up the Hague’s version of a SmartTrip, and probably other things I haven’t thought of yet. Aside from these things, I’m trying to think about little challenges I can give myself to test out my independence, and, I think, enrich my experience:
- Eat a meal at a restaurant and a drink at a bar alone.
- Get utterly lost (on purpose).
- Make friends with a random person in a random place (shop, restaurant, train, etc).
- Get a haircut! (this has been on my travel to-do list for a while, and since I haven’t cut my hair in over a year, I think it’s the opportune time.)
- Take a day trip to a small town.
Other recommendations are very welcome!