Friday, June 12, 2009

On Vacations: Revisited

I know that people leave home temporarily for lots of reasons: visiting family, business trips, etc. However, does dropping yourself in a fairly exotic land for an extended amount of time, automatically make your experience a vacation? In response to the question Abdul raised earlier this week “Does one have to leave home for it to be a vacation?” I’m going to ask one of my own, “Does leaving home necessarily make it a vacation?”

I am a rising senior at Haverford College, and for the past semester I lived and studied in Milan. My stay in Italy lasted for a semester, roughly four months and has to be the most stressful “vacation” I have ever taken. Don’t get me wrong, Milan was awesome. I had a lot of fun, and it was a fantastic experience. But the study abroad experience is like going off to college, times ten. You don’t know the language (at least I didn’t, possibly a poor choice on my part), you don’t know the culture, and though we had an orientation, there wasn’t nearly the amount of coddling you get as a big-eyed, terrified freshman. But once you stop digging your nails into the tarmac and demanding to be let onto the plane to go back to your comfort zone, it is thrilling to realize that you will be okay. You can function. You can get around a strange city, in a strange country, an ocean and half a continent away from everything you know. And confess to yourself: I AM COMPETENT. HEAR ME ROAR. And bite me to everyone who said that I was the least competent person they knew. Hah. I win.

All this satisfaction, however, stems from that fact that it’s hard. If your comfort zone is metaphorically in Delaware and you’re off in the Fuji Islands somewhere, it takes your confidence and kills it dead. I can tell you that much but it’s a good thing; I think you need to be able to roll with the punches and you can’t do that if you’ve never been in a situation where you were forced to. I definitely was. This was the first time I’ve ever really had to go out into the world and function as an adult, and when you add in a hefty dose of culture shock and the little voice in my head going Ahhhhhh!!! I was left scrambling trying to keep up. While this resulted in a great deal of personal growth for me, the upshot of it is that it I am much wiser although this definitely was not a vacation in the “relax and enjoy it” sense of the word. Sure, I got away from my normal life, but it was replaced with a whole mess of new. And new takes adjusting to.

Carrie Kolar is a rising senior at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. This is her second summer interning with The Writer’s Center.

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