Monday, February 25, 2013

Life Lessons and Reflections

I'm sitting in my room, attempting to focus on doing my MathStat homework while snacking on the best chocolates in the world (this particular box of yumminess is Belgium chocolate from Verheeche, a chocolatier in Bruges), but I can't help thinking:  I've been in Europe for an entire month.  I'm a third of the way done with my trip.  I've already explored eight new countries.  Wow.  My life is crazy.

I've decided to take the chance during this milestone to reflect on what I have learned so far in my travels and studies.  I've realized that there is no way to explain the experience of this trip to people back at home, but I guess a good place to start is with the lessons I have learned from being here.

1. It's impossible to see all of Europe in three months.
I mean, I knew that coming in, but I thought that three months would be enough time for me to really feel like I've seen everything I absolutely must see and do everything I must do.  I'm learning that I'm just getting a taste of all these wonderful places.  I'm discovering that I'm never going to be ready to go back.  I've learned that I am going to come back to Europe and explore more as soon as possible.  Either through studying abroad again while in college or making my way over here when I graduate for my 20s adventures, I won't be gone for too long.

2.  I completely adore chocolate. 
I mean, I loved chocolate in the United States, but this constant access to incredible chocolates might be near the best thing that has ever happened to me.  I am having a terribly hard time deciding what I like best... Belgium, Swiss, German... It's worth every Euro spent and every pound gained.  I decided I will try to save money on food, so I have more to spend on chocolate.  It's incredible.
Side Note: One thing I havn't learned yet is how everyone over here is so skinny!  I mean, yes, they walk a lot, and, yes, portion sizes are smaller, but the incredibly delicious, fresh, reasonably priced bakeries on every corner in every city along with all the amazing chocolate.... I just don't get it.  And I havn't even been to Italy yet.  Well, I am for sure gaining weight on this trip, and I don't even care; the chocolate is so heavenly.  It's worth it.

3. There is no better way to really get to know somebody than to travel with them. 
Traveling brings out the worst in everybody.  It is inevitable when spending every moment of every day with the same people that you will get annoyed with them at some point, no matter how much you love them.  At the same time, it bonds you and connects you better than anything.  I am already so close with my new friends here, I feel like I know them completely and fully as if we've spent our whole lives together, and it's only been a month.  I can't even imagine where we will be at the end of the next two.  We've all seen each other in our moments of impatience, stress, frustration, exhaustion, and anger, but it's absolutely perfect because we can all see past those occasional moments and have amazing experiences together.  Traveling is not just about where you go, it's largely about who you go with.  Some of the best times I have had on this trip have had absolutely nothing to do with the location I was in, but the people I was with is what made it so special.  I know the friends I have made so far here will be very longstanding friendships because nobody could ever understand all that we've been through together.

4. I don't want to have my life figured out.
I have never really known what I want to do, but that used to always bother me and I wanted so badly to decide and make a plan.  Through this trip, I've become thankful that I don't know what I want to do next because I realized how huge the world is and how many options are out there!  I'm happy for the people who have their life all planned out, but I'm thankful for my position as well because I can be open to whatever God has in store for me.  All I know right now is that my life is going to be an adventure and God has it all under control so I don't have to worry at all.  I'm super excited for whatever comes next, but I am loving every moment right now and feel absolutely no need to know what the next chapter of my life story holds.
"If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast." -Psalm 139:9-10

5.  I am so thankful for the way my parents raised me.
(Thanks, Mom and Dad!  Y'all are the best!)  I firmly agree with the lessons my parents made sure I understood and the priorities they instilled upon me.
I was always encouraged to "expand my horizons," which can be directly translated to "try this weird new food I decided to cook for dinner tonight" by my dad, but also means don't sit in my own little bubble, even the Baylor bubble that we have created here in Europe, but to go out and meet the people and do things I never thought would have done and experience the culture and eat the food.  Embracing that lesson has made this trip so much more beneficial for me because, even in Europe, it is easy to hover around the American things that remind us of home, but stepping outside of my comfort zone is what has made this so incredible.
I learned at a young age how to manage my own money and make financially wise decisions; there's no need to go into how useful and important that has been for me because it's just so crucial.
My parents demonstrated my whole life how essential it is to praise God and trust Him completely in every situation, and having that priority shape my life has led me to use this whole trip as a big opportunity to praise God and all his creation everywhere I go.
Finally, my parents have unfailingly always focused on being grateful for the little things and seeing the bigger, positive picture whenever anything goes wrong.  I would say that constant positive attitude that I have seen in both of my parents throughout my whole life has helped more than anything on this trip.

6. I really like being alone. 
Of course, I'm still an extrovert, so I don't like it nearly as much as I like being with amazing friends who I love, trust, and have a good time with, but being alone is nice too.  Even when going to beautiful places that lead me to worshiping our Creator with solid Christian friends, I need to take time to step back and just be by myself with God.  Be it at a coffeeshop, grocery shopping, wandering around whatever city I am in, on a train, or even in my bed before falling asleep, it's essential that I take a small amount of time away from other people.

7. The world is huge and everybody thinks differently.
I think that is the biggest lesson I have learned from my dutch classes so far ("International Relations from a European Perspective" and "Intercultural Philosophy and Communication").  It's been fascinating to begin to get a small view of the ways that people from other places and cultures think, and how they view me and my country.  I've realized my worldview is so limited and completely American-biased, to a greater extent than I ever would have thought.  I'm still learning about how other people think, so I will definitely post more about this later when I have a better understanding.  For now, it's just cool to realize how unaware I have been of the rest of the world for my whole life.

8. God has provided this experience for me, and I need to give back to Him.
I've learned that it's not about checking a billion places off the list.  I'm still figuring out what that looks like and means to me, but I want to make the most of my travel experience.  I don't want to miss anything, but I don't want to rush through everything either.  I need to find that balance.
Simply by being here, I get to experience Europe and my trip will be insanely memorable, unlike anywhere I've ever been before, and completely worth it no matter where I end up going or don't end up going.  I don't need to worry about going to all the best places, because my time here is not about me.  Being here is a huge blessing and a part of God's plan for me.
I am in Europe, a continent whose view of Christianity generally lies solely in a messy history of a mostly "dead" religion.  People here need to know God and need a better understanding of who He is and that He is completely good and still working in this world!  That's the reason I am here.
God gave me the amazing opportunity to be in Europe, and instead of focusing on getting the most out of my experience for myself, I need to focus on giving the most back to Him.  I'm still figuring out how to do that exactly, but I have learned that this time is not about me enjoying Europe.  I need to make sure that traveling the world does not distract me from my life purpose of bringing God glory.

9. The world is more beautiful than I would have ever imagined. 
And the most beautiful places, moments, and memories cannot be captured through a camera lens.

10. Be flexible.
 The most incredible, memorable, life-changing moments are never planned.  Witnessing these places and living this trip is no different than doing a google image search if I don't let my journeys effect me.  I travel with my heart, eyes, and mind wide open, ready for whatever comes my way and willing to learn, change, and grow from wherever the train takes me.
Also, stretching everyday is an amazing habit to form and makes you feel so much better, especially when you walk all the time.  I'm so glad Kristin, Jaime, and I started doing that.  So literal flexibility is really nice, too.

1 comment:

  1. RACHEL. ahhhhh. This is great. Today I finally submitted all that needs to be submitted for my application to go abroad in the fall. I'm hoping to go to Granada, Spain and this just makes me all the more excited. SO COOL. ENJOY ENJOY ENJOOOOOY YOUR NEXT TWO MONTHS! :)

    Oh. This is Allie Pardys lolol. bye!