I’ve done it. As of a few days ago, I’ve officially been abroad for one month. While in many ways this has felt like the longest month of my life, it’s also quite unsettling realizing that the one-month marker is also the ¼-done marker. How can that be right?
Anyway, after these few weeks I can safely say I’m adjusted to this new place, these new faces, this new way of life. That’s not to say that I’m not still learning, because I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning while I’m here. However, it means that many of my most glaring mishaps are over and done with. Panics and misadventures are all part of the fun of new travel (even if they don’t seem like it at the time), but it’s good to be done with them.
Whether because of high school German class or Avenue Q, you’ve likely heard of the term Schadenfreude–pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. In the spirit of the word, and because it’s always fun to hear about traveling misfortunes (when it’s not happening to us), I thought I’d share some of the embarrassing, odd, and sometimes downright painful situations I’ve found myself in while getting situated in this new country.
1. Don’t blink. And, for the love of God, don’t sleep.
Some of my most vivid memories of the first days here are, ironically, from a period of time in which I was uncertain of my own name. Arriving in my room for the first time after a full day, not having slept for 24 hours, I was soon faced with the daunting task of wrestling jet lag. I decided to take a short half-hour nap, but without sheets or blankets I was ultimately shivering too much to actually sleep. Somehow I found myself on the floor, draped over the hot radiator and dozing, until I realized that what I was doing was frankly ridiculous. I resolved to take a hot shower. After that, I returned to my room, sat down on my bed, and passed out for a good hour. I was thankfully woken up by the sounds of people outside at precisely 5:30, which was when dinner was due to begin. That was my first introduction to people. With damp hair. In a wrinkly sweatshirt. So groggy I wasn’t even sure I was awake.
I was prepared for a day or so of jet lag, but I wasn’t prepared for a whole week of residual sleep-deprivation. One night a few days later, in particular, I remember because I was sitting upright, messaging with a friend on my laptop at 8:30 at night, and I fell dead asleep. Staying awake is hard.
2. The realization that you are woefully unprepared for emergencies.
There I was, on my first day of class, ready to face the world and ready to look good doing it. I’d finally bought a cheap hair straightener, thus freeing me from the wild beast my hair had become in the past few days, and I had chosen my best outfit.
Thirty minutes before class was due to start, I was just finishing straightening up my hair, when the cord caught on the handle of my drawer. The straightener was jerked out of my hand and, on instinct, I reached down to catch it. Of course, my instinctual self is kind of dumb—I caught the straightener, but I caught it around the hot end, effectively blistering three fingers and the palm of my dominant hand. That is how my first class found me, and the handwritten notes from that day look like they were scrawled by a first-grader.
Because I am cheap and because at that point I was still deathly afraid of Tesco, I didn’t buy many essentials like band-aids during my first few weeks. This, I’ve learned, is a rookie mistake, because by the time you need them, it is too late. Once, while trying to close my stubborn window, I slipped and gashed my leg on my radiator (this thing, I swear, is both my comforter and my worst enemy). You’d think I might have learned my lesson after that, but no—just yesterday, I was literally zipping up my boot on my way out the door to church when my finger got caught and was sliced open. While the cut definitely looks like a gnarly action movie scar, my improvised Kleenex bandage was less than impressive. Needless to say, after that, I broke down and went to Tesco. The moral of this story is to buy medical supplies. Just do it.
3. In fact, you are unprepared for everything.
Speaking of not having necessary items, let’s go back to my first week. We’d ordered a bedding pack before my departure, which was supposed to be in my room upon arrival and complete with bedding, towels, and hangers. When I arrived, there was nothing there. Surprise!
In what is probably one of my most shameful traveling-abroad moments, I did the only thing I could think to do—I used one of my shirts as a towel for five days.
I feel like maybe we should never speak of this again. Moving on.
4. Strangers think you’re crazy.
I talked a few weeks ago about how I’m not naturally a very outgoing person, which really sucks when you’re traveling alone into unknown territory. My parents have always drilled into me the concept of “If you’re not sure, just ask.” The problem is, I’m really bad at approaching people. And when I do ask them a question, they generally look at me like I’m some kind of alien.
In my layover in Amsterdam, I had a bit of time to kill and very little internet. Therefore, I relied on my phone for entertainment. What I didn’t realize, at that time, was that with no internet, my phone had no idea what time it was in Amsterdam. When I looked down at my phone after a while of sitting, I froze: my phone indicated that, if everything was on schedule, the plane should have been leaving at that moment. I flew into an overwhelming panic and questioned the old man across from me, who informed me in an unimpressed voice that we weren’t due to leave for another half an hour.
There have been many questions throughout this month, and many raised eyebrows. How does the dining hall work? Can I sit with you? How do you get into this building? Am I supposed to be here right now?
There have been moments where I’ve introduced myself to people I’ve already met but forgotten about; moments where I’ve sat with strangers in the dining hall, thinking I knew them and realizing halfway through the meal that I’d never met them; moments where I can’t remember the names of people I’ve known for days.
There have also been mishaps with accents. The most memorable, for me, was during one of my many auditions. Along with being fairly quiet, the director had a heavy Scottish accent. He asked me a question that I couldn’t make heads or tails of, and, after asking him to repeat it twice, I took a shot and said confidently, “I’ll be reading the first Sarah monologue.”
“No,” he said. “I was asking what year in university you were.”
Everyone has to make the pants/trousers mistake once in their life.
We all love a bit of Schadenfreude. What’s your favorite travel misadventure? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for stopping by!