The Time of My Life

Megan Eiswerth
Major: Graphic Design
Book Arts in Europe, Summer I 2017

After spending the past 29 days abroad, I’m returning to the United States a completely changed, inspired, compassionate (and extremely jetlagged) person. I have walked hundreds of miles down the streets of foreign cities, navigating by luck and intuition. I have seen thousands of pieces of art, both historic and contemporary, that have me stare, ponder, gasp, laugh, and cry. I have eaten the most delicious meals of my life, always opting for authentic local cuisine when I could. I have met dozens of talented, kind, wise, wholesome people who have taught me so much about the world and its prospects that await you. I said yes to every opportunity, always sacrificing my comfort and relaxation for adventure. I have taken thousands of pictures and recorded every memory because I never wanted this month to end.

Powered by a water wheel attached to the Rhine River, these big wooden hammers are beating pulp to make paper. The Basel Papiermühle (Switzerland) is one of the oldest paper mills still in operation, open since the 13th century!

I could go on for hours about the specific experiences I’ve had and the things I’ve seen, but for now, here is some general advice for anyone who chooses to study abroad:

Pack light. I mean REALLY light.

I thought it was madness when my professor advised us to pack two pairs of pants and a few shirts. I thought I did a good job of packing lightly with my five pants, three shorts, ten shirts, and several sweaters. But seriously, it was MUCH more than I needed, especially because I had access to laundry facilities in almost every city. There were certain articles I never even wore, and I even threw out some sweaters to make room for souvenirs! All you really need is a bunch of clean underwear and socks; the rest of your clothes you can re-wear until washing is absolutely necessary. I definitely wish I would’ve taken my professor’s original advice!

A group of traditionally styled buildings along a canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Live in the moment. Get off your damn phone.

As my trip progressed, a distinct divide arose between those of us who were trying to live in the present moment and those who were trying to show off on social media. Unless you’re taking a photo or looking up directions, I can’t think of a single good reason to be on your phone/social media. While thinking of your upcoming trip, if the main thing you’re excited about is the photos and stories you will post to your followers, you are traveling for the wrong reasons. It’s fine to update your friends and family with pictures, but it should be nowhere near your top priority. If there weren’t a single person who would hear/see anything about your trip, would you still be excited to go? Would you still go out and see as much as you could each day? This trip is for YOU and only you. Absorb each passing moment with your full, conscious mind. Even in your spouts of boredom (on the train, waiting for food, etc.) don’t succumb to the vacuum of technology. Talk to people, or even just people-watch. Record memories through writing, drawing, and photography.

Consciously observe every inch of the scene in front of you because you will never see it again. Each moment is absolutely precious.

Go with the flow. You are a GUEST here.

This is not America, so please don’t expect American cultural and societal norms. The whole reason you’re here is to embrace and learn about the differences between them and us, and partake in the foreign culture. Often, Americans misinterpret certain scenarios: “Why hasn’t the waiter come back to check on us? So rude!” “You have to pay 1€ to use the bathroom? That’s ridiculous!” “Why is X not like Y?” “Why are things different?” If you find yourself getting frustrated in certain situations, remind yourself why you chose to study abroad. Have an open mind. If you were a foreigner in America, there would be a million things that would seem completely ludicrous and inefficient. Embrace the differences and learn to love them. It’s all about perspective.

One of my drypoint prints I completed in the studio in Amsterdam. I carved this plate after being inspired by the architecture and roofs in Germany.

 Everything will be okay.

It’s okay to get lost. It’s okay to have no idea what’s going on around you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! People are often much more kind and understanding than we’d think. There were countless scenarios during this month that seemed disastrous at the time (missing my flight, getting lost for hours, taking the wrong ferry, and so many more) but here I am, living to see another day. You’re life is simply an unwritten story. Each thing that happens to you, wonderful or frustrating, is just making your story more interesting. I promise that you will look back on each woeful situation with lessons learned, and hopefully with a sense of humor.

For anyone hesitant to study abroad, DO IT. Even if the planning is stressful, even if you are tight on money, even if you are afraid of becoming homesick: if you are blessed enough to have the opportunity presented to you, you NEED to do it. Say yes to the adventure!

Language barriers have taught me patience. Traveling out of a suitcase has taught me simplicity. Being a foreigner has taught me humility. Studying abroad has taught me things that decades in a classroom never could. I owe a lifetime of gratitude to Western Michigan University, my incredible professor Jeff Abshear, and the wonderful studio hosts around Europe for making this trip possible.

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