Wanderlust

 

If I look at my feet, they seem normal to me. But the reality is, these feet have been to five different countries in the last five months, which is almost more than the countries I have ever visited during my whole life. This doesn’t come without consequences: now I’m incredibly good at packing, my wallet is filled with a bunch of currency I don’t recognize and I have pictures from cats from all over the world. Seems like a good life to me.

If you’re a fellow European, I know the question that may bug you is, how can you travel so much? Of course, first there’s the money matter, and the thing is, traveling is expensive, but not that expensive. Especially if you’re willing to make a couple of compromises, (i.e. sleeping in airports, booking very cheap hostels, spending 6 hours on a bus), you’d be surprised at how cheap Europe is, in particular from Maastricht. This charming little town, in fact, is close to three airports that happen to be served by very cheap airlines. Not to mention that it is right in the center of Europe, making traveling by train or car a very significant option too. That and the fact that the Netherlands seem to never run out of cute little canal-side towns means that I can count the weekends I spent in Maastricht on the fingers of one hand.

In my opinion, an exchange in Maastricht is better than an Interrail around Europe: cheaper and you get a couple school credits in the bag, too.

If the question, instead, is why the answer is ‘non-Europeans’. Seeing Europe through their eyes made me realize truly how lucky I am to live here, where I can take a train to another country, without even having to change my money. It made me see with brand new eyes all the tiny little gems encrusted between the irregular borders and made me tick off places I didn’t even know were on my list.

Another question though may be, only five? In fact, I haven’t traveled nearly as much as some of my friends. But there are reasons for this. First of all, like I said at least a thousand times, I am European, which means I don’t have the carpe diem pressure other students have. Countries like Spain and Portugal are actually closer to home than Maastricht. Other than that though, traveling constantly has its downsides. First of all, it’s very tiring. Second, Europe is not that diverse at the end of the day: how many gothic cathedrals can you take pictures of before that becomes your Instagram theme? Finally, and most importantly, the excitement wears out. After all, anything you do for numerous times becomes a habit (but eating Pinkie’s waffles, that’s the exception to the rule). That being said I reached the point of which I used to feel more excited for a day trip in my own country than for jumping on a plane to Budapest. Oh what a wonder, being able to consider spending the weekends hopping through Europe the norm. Also, what a shame. Because now that’s my norm, and I’m living on quite a crazy high. Sadly, I don’t think there’s anything that can beat the ‘I think I’m going to Paris this weekend’ lifestyle.

That being said, one month away from having to fly back home, I hope I’ll take some of this traveling frantic with me. Now that my eyes have been opened to the wonders of Europe and Wizzair, I really hope I don’t lose the nomad kick. All there’s left to do now is convince my fellow European friends.

 

 

 

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The One That Got Away

 

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Me and one of my oldest friends in one of my favorite new places here in Maastricht.

 

 

This month I got to meet with a bunch of people from back home. Specifically, my two best friends and my family. I was excited and scared at the same time, waiting in a Starbucks in Bruxelles like I was some sort of rom-com character played by Zooey Deschanel. It’s funny because three months is a very short period of time, especially if compared to the nearly twenty years I spent with these people. But in these two months, I’ve been through so much, seen so many things and just learned to live a complete new normality, while those familiar faces were starting to slightly fade from my memory. But then I hugged them, one by one, on different days and different cities and realized, in that brief moment, three different things.

The first one is that it’s way easier to leave than to stay. If you’re reading this, chances are you are about to do an exchange and you may be having those twisted thoughts of being alone in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone. But the thing is, you have it way easier than the people you are leaving behind. Imagine them, whether it is your family, or your friends, or even your partner. They are the one left with a gap to fill that is perfectly you-shaped. You, on the other hand, have way too much to fill it up with. New people, new places, new things you have learned. If feels like somebody took three different jigsaw boxes and dumped them on the table in front of you. There are colors and shapes everywhere and frankly way too much to worry about to care about that one piece that ended up under the sofa.

Number two, time is a weird thing. Three months is a long time and a short time at the same time. It is enough to learn your way around the supermarket and the main square, to not be faded by the things that make your friends whip their camera out and to be able to make your new little room pop up into your mind when you say the words ‘I wanna go home’. It is enough for stuff to happen in your hometown. You know, things like that guy cheating on that girl and that girl hooking up with that girl who’s secretly into that guy who’s with that girl. That sort of thing. But it is not even a speck on a 5+ years long friendship. I may be liking new foods now, but I am pretty sure there are only two people in this world I want to ironically watch Fifty Shades Darker with, eating melted ice cream sandwiches. It takes so much time to get that comfortable with someone, it is going to take even more time to break that bond.

Finally, here’s a thing. Exchange is a little bit of a prolonged daydream. You are in this weird situation in which everything is fun and possible, but that is because there is a deadline. I think a lot of people romanticize the country they do their exchange in because they think that that is the reason they had so much fun, whereas it was because we were put in a sort of make pretend situation. This person I am right now, it is not who I am. It is a person that doesn’t really have any consequences to ever face, at least for this remaining two months. There is not a moment in my life in which I am going to have this luxury again, doesn’t matter where I am.

So in conclusion, if you are reading this huddle up in your bed, with your heart racing because you are about to take a plane to somewhere unfamiliar in the world, wondering about what is going to happen, half excited, half scared, this would be my advice to you. Enjoy this weird time as much as you can, and do it without a care in the world, because the people you care about now are going to be waiting for you when you come back.

Prism

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I was doing the dishes.

It was one of the first days here in Maastricht and I was awkwardly standing in a kitchen that wasn’t mine, as always trying to express my love and my gratitude with some soap and a beat up sponge. Next to me, in front of an overflowing sink, there was an Australian guy that was judging my dish-washing skills.

We were having a conversation, I don’t remember what it was about, but one thing that I do remember is that I said I was curious. I was curious to see who these people we were meeting were gonna end up being, who was going to be my new best friend and who was just going to be an acquaintance. To me, all these new people, all these new faces, all these new handshakes, felt like a bunch of dust floating around and I was just waiting to see where it was going to settle.

But one thing I didn’t know back then, as I was looking for a towel in that towel-less kitchen was that there was one piece of dust that I had to pay more attention to, and that piece of dust was me.

The truth is that the person I am today is definitely not the person I was a month ago.

I remember the first time I was alone here in Maastricht. It was right after the haze of the first week and I was scared and nervous. I went to this really cool cafè, pulled out my laptop and ordered a chai latte that I ended up spilling. I tried to occupy myself by coding a couple lines. I was hoping that immersing myself into that world of colored letters and square parenthesis was going make me feel calmer, but the whole time it was like there was a big yellow triangle on the top of my head that kept flashing ‘Error error. That’s not what you’re supposed to do. You should be with someone, you shouldn’t be alone’. And then flash forward not even two weeks later to me laying under the Brighton stars completely alone, fiddling with a seashell, feeling happy. I have a record of the waves of that night and I can’t listen to it because it still makes my heart tremble.

And when I think back about this month there are so many snippets of myself in so many different situations that I struggle to believe they’re all starring the same person, but they are.

I am the girl getting pierced in London. I am the girl leaving the library at 10 pm feeling tired but accomplished. I am the girl waking up at 3 pm with the makeup of the night before still on. I am the girl eating waffles in Belgium. I am the girl that was called ‘Peachy’ at a random concert in Utrecht. I am the girl dropping her cacti vase on the floor and then waiting until the next morning to clean it up. I am the girl dressed as a unicorn with glitter on her face for Carnival. I am the girl preparing her last presentation using the wi-fi of five different Starbucks in five different cities. I am the girl rolling down a hill in Luxemburg.

I am a party animal. I have ants in my pants. I am a night owl. I am a busy bee. I am a bookworm. I am an early bird. Damn, I am the whole zoo.

I feel like a prism. I feel like every new experience I have is carving a new face into my surface. A new face that will bounce a primary colored square in a different direction when the sun will finally hit me. Right now I’m really scared and excited to see what’s gonna happen in the next three months and who I am going to become. How many faces am I going to have? Am I going to end up being round again, just a ball of glass letting the light slip right trough me? Or am I just gonna end up being a floating piece of diamond dust?

I guess only time will be able to tell.

You’ll get used to Maastricht

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Ok so, let’s say you’ve just got here, in Maastricht.

Let’s say that you’re half an hour late on your timetable because you forgot and sat in the wrong coach on the train from Amsterdam and so you had to get down at Eindhoven and wait for the next one (it happens to the best of us).

Let’s say that you’re standing in front of the station, tugging at your sweater’s sleeves because it’s much colder (or warmer, depending on where you are from) that you’ve anticipated.

Let’s say that you look around.

And let’s also say that you’re terrified.

It makes sense, nothing looks familiar. The voices, the signs, the people. Even the sky looks a tiny bit more Dutch than what you’re used to. But don’t worry: you’ll get used to it.

You’ll get used to the fact that you’re a kid from Stranger Things now and the only vehicle you will ever use is a bike. Just like you’ll get used to the fact that car drivers here are like unicorns, not only incredibly rare but also magically nice, stopping miles before you even approach the lines to let you cross the street.

You’ll get used to the fact that pushing a man’s buttons here doesn’t make him red angry, but actually turns him green. At least when it comes to traffic lights.

You’ll get used to Maastricht at 7 pm. The cobbled streets glowing under splashes of neon lights, like you were in some sorts of DC movie.

You’ll get used to the fact that waffles here are readily available, incredibly cheap and dangerously delicious. Just like beer.

You’ll get used to the sound of clinking glasses slowly turning into one of clinking heels at 4 am. Hold my arms ‘cause I’m stumbling. Boy talk knows no nationality.

You’ll get used to the ‘They speak Dutch here?’ jokes and no, you won’t learn Dutch. At all.

You’ll get used to looking into eyes that weren’t even in your same hemisphere a few of days ago.

You’ll fall in love with smiles and accents you’ve never known before.

You’ll get used to talking to kids that never felt the water of your sea with their toes, but that were playing Yugi-Oh with their brothers just like you, even if under different skies.

You’ll get so used to going to the gym in a church, and having drinks in a church, and taking notes in a church and getting coffee in a church that the one day you’ll actually walk into a proper church it’ll feel weird.

You’ll get used to looking into the warm windows, consciously lighten up, to show a glimpse of somebody’s life. Voyeuristic privacy.

The words ‘de Alla’ will have a meaning for you. Which meaning depends on the night and the number of drinks you had.

If you’re not already, you’ll get used to making Powerpoint presentations.

You’ll get used to the failed attempts at pronouncing street names that always start out so promising until nonsense sounds start rolling off your tongue like a tumbleweed in a western film.

You’ll get used to that random sock in the hall of your apartment that at first was stressing you out but now it’s like a weird pet and you’ll feel weird if it’d ever disappeared.

You’ll even get used to the nonsense that is the myPrint account.

You’ll get used to Maastricht. And, in the meantime, you’ll fall in love with it.

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