I chose the enormous picture at the top of this page because it sums up a pretty big portion of how my friends and I have been spending this semester:
Being huge idiots and sticking out like sore thumbs.
Recently, Hannah and I realized something cool about our time in Europe. For five months of our lives, we get to be the minority. Not in all ways, but in some. When I speak, I’m the one with the accent. I’m the one who fumbles with euro coins in line at the supermarket. I’m the one who wears rain boots when it rains, even though no one else really does. I’m the one who gets excited about mundane things, and people smirk at my gasps and wide-eyed proclamations of, “this is awesome!” everywhere we go.
I’ve learned how to be an outsider. For a while I found myself keeping my head down, cringing at myself for wearing rain boots every day. I don’t speak like the people here, I don’t dress like them, and I found myself fumbling through social customs and interactions during my first month. At first it made me uncomfortable. I felt big and loud and intimidated, even though I received patience and kindness from the people around whom I mess up.
After a while, though, I got comfortable with being an outsider. This is due in large part to the fact that I was never really treated like one, I only thought of myself that way, but also because I got good at it. Hann was experiencing something similar in Spain, only she was grappling with the challenges of not being able to articulate herself in Spanish, which is even more nuts. We were talking about how we felt so embarrassingly American when I said, “But, Hann, we are American.” There was no use trying to deny that. It’s not like we could just close our eyes and spontaneously become cultured Europeans who were fluent in three languages. We realized that we were wasting our time trying to assimilate so well into this culture that we were almost missing out on it.
So I started to fight back the cringe that crept up my spine when someone smirked at something I said. I began to appreciate the advice given to me by friends who are from here. Eventually I didn’t wait until I was corrected for doing the wrong thing, I’d walk up to the nearest local and ask. My roommate Jen is probably one of the most enthusiastic and positive people I’ve ever met, and people have taken to imitating the way she says, “wooow!” whenever she gets excited. She never masks her enthusiasm, so I decided that neither would I. I’ve been walking the streets of Cork for three months now, and I still walk with my face tilted up toward the sky, taking it all in.
I hope that I’ve never been a proud or arrogant person, but this semester has allowed me to experience first-hand the different lives that people around the world are living, and it’ been a lot to wrap my head around. When you’ve never left your cultural bubble, it’s hard to imagine that there are people out there who’s perspective and experience has been so totally different from yours. You’ve never gotten to ask their opinions or hear their languages or taste their foods. Living abroad means that you get to inhabit a different perspective, you get to walk the cobblestone streets of a country of people who grew up a world away from you. It’s been a privilege to be an outsider, a privilege to be wrong.
I won’t lie to you guys, I sort of stole this idea from Hannah. But she’s in Amsterdam right now and I was scrambling for a topic today. (So this is happening, Hann. Sorry.) She mentioned to me a few weeks ago how she’s learned how to be wrong. How to be okay with the fact that she speaks in broken Spanish and can’t always say what’s on her mind as eloquently as at home. We’ve both gotten good at not knowing how things work sometimes. We’re masters of receiving corrections graciously and realizing we’re talking loudly in public places. We’re professionals at being wrong.
(Below are pictures of us actively not blending in.)