Just this past weekend, a few friends and I had the amazing opportunity to take a trip to Rome, Italy, for four days. We ate gelato, explored the Colosseum, walked the Spanish steps more times than I can count and fell in love with one of the oldest cities in the world. There's a magic to being in a new place, an inexpiable tang that rests in the mouth like the last lingering bite of lemon ice cream. For me, it's a driving force to go and learn where I am. It's more than just knowing where to go and dressing like a local though. I love turning a corner and finding a new building in a familiar area of town. The first time I heard the phrase "the spirit of adventure," it was in the movie Up, where the man and young boy make a house fly with balloons. I love that phrase, and walking around Italy with my four friends solidified how much I identify with it. For the first time traveling without our parents planning every step of the way, we forged our own path. And achieving things like that made our trip one of a lifetime.
We walked around with no clue where to go for probably an hour, when a tour guide passed us and handed out free maps to people passing on the way. That's when the light went on; why had we not thought of it before? Passport? Check. Translating book? Check. Map? Not so much. It's such a simple thing, knowing where to go, but we thought we would explore the ground before us, which in hindsight was rather silly. Reading a map is a skill that none of us thought much of, but ended up being one of the most important things we had to speed learn.
Rome is a monstrous city. That we should have known. It's breathtaking and beautiful, but very frustrating if you have no idea where you're headed. Having a map opened up areas we never knew existed, and eased most of the tension we had been carrying with us on our travels. This small victory was incredible in our eyes, the language barrier could be broken and the city was once again ours to explore. At one point, getting from place to place was a struggle, but now that we could navigate ourselves it felt as though we were learning in a study abroad class room, which happens to encompass the whole world. Reading about getting lost in a well-known city can seem romantic and aimlessly perfect, but sometimes it's a hassle that causes anxiety and heated tempers. Don't get me wrong, getting yourself back on track can be fun and a wonderful way to start to recognize a place, but when there are such great places to be seen in a small amount of time, I would rather find my way quickly and as efficiently as possible.
My friend Kathryn is the one who finally read the map. She knew exactly where we were and where we needed to go every step of the way. Without her, I would still be in the Colosseum exploring and not intending to leave anytime soon. Gaining this win while abroad put into perspective the skills I was learning everywhere. I can see now that studying outside of your host university isn't just to experience what life is like in a different country, but how you can take those differences and meld them with what we know to make a well rounded person who can go out and conquer those new experiences. Even little things, like reading a map, can change your whole view of how to handle a situation.
Caroline Stinogel is the 2014 CEA MOJO in Galway, Ireland. She is currently a junior at Western Washington University.
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