Today marks one year since I have lived in America, driven a car, and seen my closest friends and family. But in this one year, I’ve experienced more than most do in a lifetime. I’ve opened my eyes, my ears, and my heart to the world and the colorful cultures, individuals, and opportunities it has to offer. While most friends pursued jobs in the so called “real world” after graduation, I lived in it. For the past year, I have lived by this quote:
“Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.”
Prior to gallivanting half way across the world, friends and family alike predicted my year abroad would consist of a delicious diet, European love, and too many adventures to count. Spoiled with homemade Italian pasta dishes, twice daily gelato, and all the fresh baguettes and pastries I desire, my stomach has found itself quite satisfied. And yes, I’m in LOVE! And with the most passionate lover in the world–Europe. I’ve opened my heart to its splendorous countries and they’ve given me nothing but love and new experiences in return. Everyday good, bad, exciting, or boring presents a new challenge and adventure that continues to bulk up my travel novel past its binding.
Looking back I think to myself, “Who was that crazy girl with a one-way ticket to Europe and no plan? And how did she end up back in Paris?” If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this year abroad, it’s that you can’t plan out life. You have to let life happen and figure it out along the way.
The best part about my international endeavors stems from the uniqueness of each experience in multiple countries. Rather than comfortably settle into one location with one job, one group of friends, and one cultural experience, I ventured for the less comfortable and at times challenging option to live in 3 different countries each with their own language, culture, and customs. I worked 3 vastly different jobs and though I started out alone, I quickly made new friends from every inch of the world and never knew where I’d end up on any given day. This exciting yet challenging route allowed me to call three international destinations home and it opened the door to surprising, unexpected, and awe inspiring opportunities.
The Modern Day Italian Goddess
In Italy, I not only gained an excess amount of kilos from the twice daily pasta dishes and Nutella breakfast sandwiches, but also an appreciation for the Italian culture that most miss while gondola-ing through Venice or posing with gladiators at the Coliseum.
Living with Italians from south, north, and central Italy, I experienced the passion and pride Italians possess for their culture. Standing at their doors with open arms and European kisses, I was welcomed into the family and treated as one of their own without hesitation. These families showed me the beauty of their country from their own eyes, and it was hard not to feel like an Italian goddess when walking down any street surrounded by ancient ruins and history.
Finally, though not much can be said for productivity in Italy, I benefited from the lack there of by slowing down my American busy body self to take a moment to stop and drink some wine and eat some cheese.
Single Girl in the City: London Town
After becoming incredibly too comfortable with the lax Italian lifestyle, I had to kick it u a notch to keep up with the busy city life of London. However, I quickly came to realize that London was my happy medium. With a NYCesque nonstop atmosphere of activity mixed in with the EuroChill attitude, London became the city of my dreams. Spending my days in chic cafes or eclectic pubs with the girls, we enjoyed the unique English culture complimented by an international flare.
The diversity of London goes beyond its international inhabitants. Just 10 minutes walking distance to the next, each borough possesses its own culture, style, and attitude. From the posh areas of Hampstead to the eccentric and edgy Camden Town, or corporate Liverpool St. leading to the artsy confines of Spittalfields, the unique boroughs created a walkable time warp into different decades and atmospheres throughout the city.
Kristin, Kristine, Christian, Chantal- Unidentified Parisian Life
To my American friends, I’m Kristin. To my French family and friends, I’m Kristine and apparently Christian when they try to Americanize their accent. So many a time I just go with my high school French class name and new alter ego, Chantal. Just like the name situation, Paris has proven to be a very ‘all over the place’ kind of experience that often results in confusion. This is primarily a result of the double life I lead– 23-year-old Kristin versus Au Pair Kristine.
The Au Pair life in the suburbs of Paris is a rather quiet one–when I’m not with the kiddies that is. Surrounded by French, French, and more French, I am fully immersed in the culture and language 24/7. This has definitely allowed me to understand the particular ways of the French and develop my language skills. That being said, I do know how to say more than ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Merci’ nowadays, but language barriers still present humorous scenarios at times.
Taking care of 2 (sometimes 3) kids under the age of 6 in the suburbs definitely creates a need for social interaction with people my age and a change of scenary. Every chance I get to escape into Paris makes me appreciate the city that much more despite its little quirks.
Most of my days spent in the city include wandering down unfamiliar and diagonal streets that almost always turn me in the opposite direction of my destination. Along the way, I always tend to find lovers and their baby in the making, meet an interesting crowd of Parisian dwellers eager to share their ‘talents’, ‘words of wisdom’, or ‘appreciation for my legs’, and creepers who so kindly invite me to ‘take a coffee with them’. After giving them the Parisian ‘get away’ eyebrow lift, I mosey my way through the alleys leading to an array of interesting happenings such as Antiquites Brocantes (antique garage sales), bread festivals, wine tastings, and endless cultural events thorough out the city of lights. Paris is full of hidden treasures, and I made it my mission to discover every single one.
The travels aren’t over yet
With 24 days remaining in my Parisian experience, I’m enjoying the mystery and wonder of the lavish city while preparing for the next big thing. So what’s next?! One year ago, as I was hopping on the plane to fly to Europe, never did I think I’d be going to ASIA! But life is leading me to Taiwan and the Southeast for the culture shock of a lifetime. Asian food, a new culture and its customs to integrate into, constant confusion when trying to read anything– o it’s gonna be great! After Asia, it’s back to Italy for another go with ACLE followed by some travel through the European east side (can’t wait to feel rich in Europe!) and finally home sweet home…at least that’s the ‘idea’ for now 🙂
I could go on and on about the magnificent journey I’ve been on for the past year, but in the end it will forever be one that is indescribable. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the experiences I’ve had and to those that have been a part of them. All I got to say is it’s been a heck of a ride!
So bottoms up, cin cin, cheers, santé, and hō ta lah to an indescribable year of a lifetime and the continued good life ahead!