Monday, July 17, 2017

Essay: Abroad for a Month

It has been a journey to get to Bruneck, get comfortable with living here, and sit down to collect my thoughts for this post. First of all, I've never been out of the US for more than two weeks and while the whole idea is very exciting, it is a little stressful to prepare for the trip. I had to get all of my bank information, taxes, visas, and healthcare in order before my flight over here. I am very glad that I had time to do some of this during my trip to San Francisco and while at home with my mother's help. Second, I am so grateful to work for a company that lets me experience all of these new things. I can credit so many awesome things in my life to being in this rotational program and my awesome mentors. Last, I don't know where to begin or how to fully describe my experience here so far. It's wonderful and humbling and beautiful and lonely all at the same time. And unsurprisingly,  I really enjoy living here despite the differences from the US.  

My first week here was hard because my jet lag was absolutely terrible. I could not sleep during the night and I would sleep all day long. Some mornings, I was awake at 5 am, taking walks in an empty city along a rushing river, making friends with the garbage men out at the same time. Then I would go home and nap during the day to be awake all night again.  After a few days of this schedule, walking around in nature for a couple of hours a day really helped to get my body tired enough to sleep some hours during the night. I was extremely lucky to fly to Italy on a holiday weekend where I could work through the jet lag at home and get to a normal sleeping schedule after a week. I could not imagine how weird my body would feel if I just started work the day after getting to Italy - I would be asleep in meetings for sure!

The first time that I really realized what I was in for here was when I went to the grocery store. Some things were in German and other things in Italian and I was confused. In the US, I can be in and out of the grocery store in 10 minutes but it took me a solid half hour to find everything I needed for the week. For example, the eggs are on a shelf and not in the fridge like in the US because they do not wash the eggs before sending them to the grocery store. Getting vegetables and fruits in the produce department is different too - you have to tag them yourself at a little scale with a printer as the cashier will not weigh them for you. I also had such a hard time finding the organic non-dairy milk that I always buy in the US. When I finally found it, they had more flavors than I have in the US like banana or strawberry! But as in all things in life, the more you try and ask questions, the easier it becomes and now it is like second nature for me to find everything in the grocery store. 

Work is and was different story than my usual US routine. Not only am I working in a different segment that I am used to, the documents and systems I know well in the US are all in a different language. The operators don't speak the same language as me and stare at me when I walk on the floor because I am different. And yet, I find that smile at most people gets a smile in return. A simple question asked yields something interesting to try or to see in the area. People are pretty much always willing to try and speak English with me or try to teach me a little of their language too! People are surprisingly kind and patient with me  and all of my seemingly silly questions and for that I am really grateful. This plant houses some of the best people in our field and I am so excited to learn from them during these 6 months :) Something totally different than the US is that they have a tradition to go to the bar after work on Fridays and blow off some steam, meet new people, and tear down the walls between the different levels of the company. I really enjoy these Friday beer meetings and networking all of the people that work at this world class plant.

Living in the Alps on the weekends is a really unique adventure for me. I've been to this town for work twice in the past year but I never stayed over the weekend. When the weather is nice, everyone is off to the mountains for a hike and lunch at a mountain hotel. When it rains, there is not much to do around here besides hang at home, do something touristy, or go to the sauna. In Bruneck, there is a city center with shopping, restaurants, and bars but it's nothing like San Francisco where I just lived for 5 weeks or home. I am obsessed with all of the different evening activities they have here during the summer. A outdoor street kitchen on Tuesday nights, a cultural experience on Thursdays in the square and a outdoor party where everyone shows up on Friday nights are all part of my routine now. In each of these experiences, I learn more about the culture, more about the kind people who allow me to tag along with them and their friends, and more about the way that a life like this can shape a person.

I am not sure what the next 5 months will hold for me here - downhill biking, sunrise hiking, spending evenings at the lake, some traveling, or some rock climbing but I do know that I am open to all of the things that the area would like to expose to me. For example, I went to an adventure park with my coworker and climbed around in the tops of the trees and that's something I would never try in the US. There is a real beauty in realizing that what you know as life is not the case for many other people in the world and while you both try to understand each other, you learn much more about yourself in the process.

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