DO WHAT YOU LOVE: FINDING YOUR GROOVE AWAY FROM HOME
When you’re young, you often feel invincible. Nothing can stop you because you always have a handle on the situation. A few years ago, whenever my ex-girlfriend was hesitant about something dangerous or scary we were about to do, I always answered with, “Trust me. It’s fine,” because I believed if I led the way, nothing could ever go wrong.
It’s a nasty habit that young people, especially men, succumb to. And I learned my lesson the hard way in the first month of my semester abroad in Scotland.
What am I referring to?
The University at Albany’s study abroad department told me last spring when I agreed to come here that culture shock was inevitable because every student who goes abroad experiences it to some extent. My advisers spoke of the “W.” You first arrive at your destination and you love it because everything is new and exciting and you’ve never seen anything like this before. But after a few weeks and all the hype settled down, you start a steady decline when you realize everything you miss about the United States.
I hit the first bottom of that “W” in this past week. As much as I enjoyed the first few weeks learning about a different lifestyle, everything I missed about America started to overwhelm me. Autumn in upstate N.Y. brings a renewed sense of optimism every year when newly-changed leaves emerge and apple orchards (and apple cider donuts) call your name. No such feeling overwhelmed me here because no leaves have changed and it is overcast 80 percent of the time. I missed my car that could get me to the destination of my choice on a spontaneous whim. And I missed my friends and family, who normally I can call, text or Snapchat and have a conversation with whenever I want. But because the United Kingdom’s time zone is five hours ahead of America’s and my phone works only when connected to WiFi, it’s difficult to keep a running conversation that doesn’t involve me staying up really late. And of course, I missed sitting by the fountain or watching my beloved Great Danes rack up the W’s at Casey Stadium.
I told myself none of this would happen when I first learned about culture shock because like all naïve men, I thought I could handle all of the sudden changes. Going to Europe is something I’ve dreamt about for years and I figured they would have to drag me out of this place in December when it’s time to go home.
I was sadly mistaken. I missed so many aspects of the American lifestyle and my school that a negative aura consumed me for most of the week.
Whenever a problem arises, two options exist for dealing with it. Either you run or embrace it and tackle it head-on. For a day or two, I ran from it. I woke up, went to class, the gym, came home, made dinner, and studied without saying much to anyone, quietly counting down the days until I return to Albany.
Realizing I’m stuck here until December, I decided to stop complaining.
Wait. I’m only here until December? That’s 2 ½ months. I have to make the most of my time while I’m in Europe. Who knows when I’ll be back, if ever? I saved money and made sacrifices in the past year so I could have an unforgettable time. It was time to put matters into my own hands.
So in the last two days I did what I loved to do. I woke up early, went for a stroll to the top of a wee hill near my flat that overlooks the western part of the city. I stood for a few moments, breathing in the fresh European air with birds chirping in the background, and headed back to my flat to prepare for the day.
In the pouring rain (that happens frequently) and without a plan, I ventured to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on Friday and spent six hours there. I admired and analyzed paintings, sculptures and artifacts dating all the way back to ancient Egypt. I also picked up some tidbits of information about the history of Scotland and the people who molded the country into what it is today. And when I needed a break from all of that, I watched an organ recital in the museum. In another instance I sat on a bench in front of a thought-evoking Salvador Dali piece and contemplated life for thirty minutes. Some of my friends tell me I have an “old soul.” I know I do, but I enjoy taking my time and listening to good music, looking at art or spending time in the outdoors. It’s peaceful. It’s calming. I even ended the day with a half-pint of beer at a nearby pub.
Call me Grandpa.
The following morning, after walking to my hill again, I set out on a rare gorgeous day for Glasgow’s City Centre, the most tourist-y spot in Glasgow. Musicians played live music with guitar cases laid out in front. Balloon artists and bubble-blowers entertained children. I walked around and took in the entire experience—especially the music, blue sky, and other people enjoying the day. I window-shopped and tried on clothes in Nike and Timberland stores that I could never afford to buy. I bought a burrito bowl at BarBurrito, Scotland’s closest attempt at a Chipotle (sadly, not as good). I even splurged on a Nutella-and-caramel glazed donut that I couldn’t resist. I wandered into a bookstore and scanned the back covers several books to give me ideas for future reading. And when I needed a break, I found a comfortable spot in a green area where I could people-watch and take in the sights without worrying about a single thing.
Go ahead, say it. It’s only a matter of years before I start playing golf and finishing early enough to just make the early bird special.
I don’t care what other people think. This is who I am. And if I’m going to ascend from the rock bottom of that “W” I hit earlier this week, then I’m going to do what makes me happy, not anyone else.
Do what you love. Don’t let what other people think ever stop you from doing what you want. I didn’t, and now I hold a greater appreciation for this city and am itching for all the future memories I’ll make in the next two and a half months.