As Delta Airlines crosses the Atlantic Ocean on a night flight from New York to Berlin, I sit at my seat with notebook out. Never a need for movies or music or sleep to preoccupy me, I am a happy camper with just a notebook and pen at hand. Such an old habit now I wonder if this is how I first traveled over ten years ago when I came to Europe for the first time.
Summer 1999 was my first study abroad experience in a small town in France. I chose Dijon, not because of its well known Kir or mustard but because of my French penpal whom I started corresponding via postal letters five years prior. That summer I studied French at Université de Bourgogne, stayed with a host family the Robbes in their castle home. I ate a lot of fresh baked bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I drank for the first time and got drunk over Kir during aperatif at the evening parties of chez Robbes. I tried the best wine from Bourgogne and Bordeaux, explored and got lost in Carrefour, felt I could live on a diet of cheese forever. I celebrated my 20th birthday with my penpal and his family in the village of Selongey. Like other Americans I backpacked through Europe. A lot of the little details are forgotten in time, but the highlights are still strong in my memory. If life is about the moments that take our breath away, I have gotten more than my share just in that summer.
The two months of studying abroad has as huge impact on my life. It developed in me the desire to live abroad, to be a local in a foreign country where I don’t speak their language well or understand their customs. It encouraged me to see beyond my own native Chinese heritage and my adopted American culture. I learned to be to be less petty and more easygoing, to try to understand other people’s circumstances. I became more outgoing, more social, more confident and thrive on wanting to see more, learn more, do more.
I am now returning to Europe in my 30s, while older and more experienced the last decade of travels did not lessen my enthusiasm or appreciation for Europe. It is like seeing an old friend who has watched me grown up – I’ve been nurtured so much that I feel a desire to give back. The morning sunlight shines bright onto the city of Berlin – I eagerly anticipate a creative and productive two weeks of work ahead.