Imagine the absolute most pristine temperature, sun radiating a cozy glow on your skin, pine trees and their graceful boughs rustling in the wind, crystalline foam from the Adriatic Sea lapping at your feet, gelato in your eager hands...? Shopkeepers calling out "Molimo vas da dođete u!" as you stroll down cobblestone streets, kunas jingling in your pockets; the sounds of melodious German, Croatian, and Italian voices echoing in your ears, at your hopeful fingertips...? The perfect bite of baklava while sitting in a cafe in Pula, bliss in the earthly form of honey and nuts...?
Croatia was heavenly. Simply heavenly. It came at a perfect time, right before school and a perfect close to a perfect summer. I could do this summer again, you know. Traveling, shopping, relaxing, spending time with beloved family and close friends, and then going to Europe? Ja bitte! It was a mental preparation for the upcoming school year and a therapy from emotional life of an exchange student...so is my life now. Croatia and Austria are completely different worlds. As soon as I crossed the border of Slovenia and Croatia at customs, the first thing I thought was "ohh goodness. I'm entering ghetto Austria." Croatia is definitely everything I optimized about Southern Europe. The coast of Croatia is very isolated and protected. The beaches: exquisite, rocky, and pine-fringed. You are a blissful tourist, basking in the company of other tourists and the sun. Once you make your way into town, the landscap changes dramatically. Ragged clothes hung up on lines dangling dangerously in the skylights of the alleyways. A cracked and weather beaten apartment with a windowbox of blushing pansies. Tourists at cafe tables clutching their souvenirs and eating 10 Kuna gelato cones; meanwhile the seller of the gelato shouts at pedestrians slipping on cobblestone streets. They gape at the sea and the captivating window displays designed to lure, and telling by the immense number of shopping bags floating on wrists in the vicinity, indeed they work. An older woman stringing dried vegetables into a vivid pattern to sell at the morning market. She croons a inaudible lullaby; an olive skinned child lurks at her side and peers from the crook of her elbow at you walking by. Children shriek in the streets and a car slams on it's brakes. This is Istria, Croatia.
outdoor Croatian markets. Beautiful, yes?
Is the grass greener on the other side? Nein. Croatia was incredible...but only for vacation. As soon as we approached the Austrian border I suddenly realized that I missed my country incredibly and how blessed I was to live in such a secure place. In Austria, I can be out walking in Klagenfurt, a living, breathing city, at night and have no worries. I can be alone whenever and wherever. I don't have to carry my passport on me at all times. I don't have to always look behind my shoulder. Times aren't inexplicit. I don't have to cover up my startlingly pale skin. In Austria, my home, I lay my trust irrevocably and wholeheartedly.
• think the American state license plate game is entertaining? try countries. I challenge you to find Scandinavia on the Autobahn.
• you've never truly felt like a tourist until you go to Croatia. No, really. Your pale skin will scandalize the townsfolk. How dare you go out without tanning properly...?
• RIP International Redhead Day in the Netherlands.
• Having a single thought is enough to trigger an onslaught of tears or a bout of laughter. For example, Uli (my host mum) gave me cashews for a snack on the beach...I remembered the last time I had cashews was in one of my dad's creations: fried rice with steamed veggies, Trader Joe's teriyaki sauce, and cashews. We sat and watched a documentary (Daddy always would get documentaries off of netflix, having a que a mile long) and so was one of my last days. This does not make me homesick: only wistful. Very nostalgic.
• I'm proud to be an American more than ever, but not proud of what America represents to many Europeans: boastful, loud, tactless, and haughty.
• Relationships are more important than ever. Language is a barrier. Hand gestures are my chosen method of communication. Words, words that I previously thrived on, have lost their appeal.
• An Austrian once told me "quick decisions are good decisions." I am no longer indecisive to the point of breakage. This is a typical Austrian trait.
• I am having the most difficult time eating European style! It's so unnatural to hold your fork and knife AT THE SAME TIME. I constantly feel the urge to drop the knife and put my hand under the table.
It's very odd to me that I am a foreign exchange student now...the exchange students back home were fascinating with their accents and unique senses of culture and worldliness. I am the first American many have met, and it's my duty to reverse negative opinions. I must be aware of the daunting fact that whatever first impression I give will stick with them for life. "Oh yes, Americans...I met one once, an exchange student, she was ____". It's a constant weight on my mind, reminding me first impressions mean everything and nothing. Nothing because there is so much more beneath the mask of appearance; everything...well, self explanatory.
I am happiest when my eyes are bright, my mind inquisitive and curious, my feet heavy but my heart light, a new city to explore, and the prospect of tomorrow.