Written by Zoe Pringle, (Brandeis University) Student Correspondent CET Forence, Fall 2018
Since living abroad I have become largely more adventurous in my independent pursuits. An introvert by nature, I welcome and even schedule alone time for myself. However, at home in the United States this alone time nearly always consists of me eating while either binge watching Netflix or reading. I realized I have been seriously limiting myself and that I can achieve the recharging I need from solitude while also exploring what the outside world has to offer. The recharging does not center around me relaxing, it centers around me being alone and independent, and this is what I failed to realize in the States.
My second day of arriving in Italy, still jet lagged but determined to familiarize myself with the confusing maze of streets, I ventured outside alone. Maybe having just taken my first plane ride alone inspired my independence or maybe I wanted to ease my anxiety about getting lost, but this first solo adventure set the tone for my whole stay. I got lost and still found my way home. The successful trip sent me in a frenzy to no longer experience my down time surrounded by blank walls.
I quickly made it a morning ritual to explore a new street everyday, popping into stores that looked interesting or trying new food. Grabbing a gelato and sitting in a plaza for hours with my camera, observing the hoards of passing crowds, was about a thousand times more interesting than eating peanut butter out of jar while I just reruns of “Friends” for the hundredth time. A people watcher at heart, I found this activity even more fun abroad than at home. When I was sick with a cold and in desperate need of minestrone, a regional Tuscan soup, I even went out to a trattoria alone, a faux pas in Italian culture.
In Italy, food is meant to be shared, and while I got some strange stares from locals and a pitiful waved cover charge by the overly gracious waiters, I had enjoyed a meal with my book alone in a setting where I was not supposed to be alone. The introvert in me felt invigorated. When going out alone to explore alone no longer filled my solo adventure void, I upped the ante.
Fall break was coming up and I was not leaping to go to many of the countries my classmates were traveling to, so I made the decision to travel the second half alone. I decided on Sweden, to meet some distant relatives, and booked my flight. After writing the trip in my planner, I realized I would need to take four modes of transportation to get to the small town my family lives in an hour outside of Stockholm. For someone who grew up in a town with a limited bus system as the only kind of public transportation, this was daunting to say the least. Especially considering Sweden does not sound like any of the romantic languages that I can usually get by with understanding.
To start the trip, I first had to lug my suitcase down four long flights of stairs in my Berlin apartment at 6 am. I was worried I wasn’t going to make it, but I reminded myself that I made the decision to travel alone so the suitcase was just going to have to make it down the stairs. My first mode of transportation was a cab. Easy peasy. Since living in Europe, I have become a pro airport navigator, so the flight was a breeze as well. The second half of the journey was not so simple.
After walking for what felt like miles, in what turned out to be the wrong direction of the Stockholm airport, I finally found the bus I was supposed to take to get to the Stockholm train station. What I was expecting to be a twenty minute ride was an hour long, but the views made it enjoyable. I was anticipating a small train station, like Florence’s, so I was not too worried about this last leg of the trip. Plus, I was three-fourths of the way there. My confidence was soaring through the roof, until I got to the station. Turns out, Stockholm Central Station is not only a train station, but a subway and bus station, making it large and hectic. After quite a bit of searching and lots of asking strangers questions, I made it onto the train to my destination. Even this semi-stressful day socially recharged me and I was ready for adventure to continue.
The next day, I took the train into Stockholm to have a day of exploration alone. I walked through Gamla Stan, an adorable old part of the city, then spent hours at a photography museum. I window shopped at vintage stores, drank hot tea and ate the most delicious cinnamon buns I have ever had. I even got authentic Swedish Fish. The cashier assured me that they really are better than the American version, and she was right. I walked to my family’s house from the train station when I returned feeling peaceful and fulfilled. I cannot put my finger on why exactly, but this was by far one of my favorite days from living abroad.
All of this is not to say that adventuring with others cannot be just as fun. With friends in Florence I have gone to a women in leadership conference, a documentary release showing, the Christmas market in Santa Croce, and completed the Duomo climb (463 steps!), to name a few activities. I still, however, continued my tradition of going to new places alone. I made it to Boboli Gardens, the Uffizi Gallery, the central market, and continued to eat my way through Florence.
While I am sure my strong introvert tendencies make it easier for me than others to enjoy alone time, I highly suggest everyone studying abroad (or not) to try something new alone. When you need a social break, don’t assume that you must be resting to feel relaxed. Relaxation is often found in adventure, too.