After spending 10 long, dark, and groggy hours on the plane, I slowly pulled up the window and spotted the gold at the end of the rainbow: Europe. Sure, it may have been buildings in Frankfurt, Germany that I wouldn’t be able to distinguish from any other city, but I couldn’t care less. My mind was overcome with happiness and excitement. I had dreamed of coming to Europe for so long and couldn’t believe I was finally here. However, I have a confession: I had so many preconceived notions of what it would be like and being the planner that I am, worried about many things going awry.
My excitement came to a halt when we landed and I heard “Willkommen in Deutschland!” My heart stopped. What did they just say?? I had spent so much time revisiting my French from high school and learning new Italian phrases that it didn’t cross my mind to learn any German for my layover. Panic set in as I wondered would I be able to find my connecting flight? Were any signs in English in the airport? Could anyone help me in English if I got lost? Little did I know that she said simply said “Welcome to Germany!” and my fears proved to be fruitless. Yes, I could follow the signs to my connecting flight and yes, most airport personnel spoke enough English for the few questions I had.
The hardest time I’ve had with a different language while traveling around Europe has been in Paris. I possess enough rudimentary French to get by, but several times I needed to ask something out of my vocabulary. Instead of attempting to speak English (which I’m not necessary expecting, as I am in their country) or answer me in French, they corrected the pronunciation of my question and went about their business. I was a little peeved, but didn’t let this convince me that the French hate Americans and are all snooty (another common American assumption).
As embarrassing as it is, I have to admit I was also terrified of going through customs. I had only ventured to Canada and they seemed to always ask a million questions in an intimidating way. I’ve gotten pulled over and brought inside before because they didn’t like the area I said I was staying at (with a friend). The last thing I needed was for me to not say the right thing and have them interrogate me in a different language. Once again, my fear was unfounded as most of the customs I’ve been to in Europe hardly ask any questions. The most interrogation I’ve ever had was taking the Eurostar from Paris to London, but he mainly seemed bored with the questions he had to ask rather than suspicious.
When visiting multiple countries in Europe, it makes sense financially to take the train. Once again, this was one of my biggest stressors. I worried for each country if the signs would be in English at all, would I understand what platform I was going to, and would I make it on the train on time? Yes to all, once again; the train and I become best friends. They are so efficient in Europe, it’s very easy to read the timetables, and someone has always been able to speak enough English to at least confirm if I’m on the right train or not.
I did have some worries when I first traveled abroad. However, almost none of them turned out to be half as bad as I thought. Sometimes the fear of the unknown scares us and we won’t know the answer until we find out for ourselves. You can research as much as you want before a trip, but things will not always go according to plan. After my first time back from Europe, the verdict was in: I officially had the travel bug. I took about a week to recover, and then immediately started mapping out future trips in new countries. Traveling pushes you past your boundaries, forces you to conquer your fears, and makes you come out stronger in the end. Your eyes are opened so much to new cultures, and you come back more accepting and respectful of others’ way of doing things. Getting the confidence from that first trip pushed me to explore more countries, and make me more open to travel plans I may not have considered before due to fear.
What about you? Did you have any preconceived notions or fears about a different country before you went?
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