Monday, November 27, 2017

9 Things I Learned Living Abroad and 1 Life Lesson

These six months living in South Tyrol have been a really transformative period of time for me. And while I realize now I have a lot of growth to do professionally, personally I experienced a ton of realizations and newfound appreciation for the way to world works that I had to share! It was not an easy 6 months, and I certainly made plenty of mistakes but in the end, I would not change anything as I learned so much about myself, what kind of person I want to be, and how I want to live my life.

Me after my first hike - man, that was hard!
1. It can be really scary when you literally cannot understand anything being said around you but you learn so much faster being in an immersive environment. I would say after 6 months, I can barely  speak Italian or German, but when it comes to some common social situations like grocery shopping, ordering at a restaurant, or asking for directions - I can get by just fine and that was a happy moment when I realized that living here. I am hoping to take some formal classes in German and Italian when I get back to the states so I can feel even more comfortable in these new languages.

In ST, they do appetizers right!
2. There really is NOTHING better than a plate of smoked meat, cheese, bread, and potatoes with a glass of good Italian wine or a cold German beer after a long day at work. The only thing better would be the same meal after hiking or as brunch after a long evening the night before.

Lago de Braies - was literally the most beautiful place I've ever been!
3.  In general, being a more environmentally conscious person is a good thing and encouraged here. I definitely sorted my garbage into more categories that I am used to and I took pride in seeing in a week I made less than a grocery store sack full of garbage. Using an dish rag to clean the house is a much more economical and environmentally friendly way to keep the counters clean in the kitchen. In general, I used way more different kinds of sponges - who knew there were so many - to keep my apartment clean and I really liked the low impact on the environment due to it.

My friend from the laundry mat, her sister's children, and cold water contest!
4.  People are inherently kind and I was overwhelmed and still am overwhelmed at how nice everyone was to me in an area that is not so used to my kind of people. After a physical attack by a dialect screaming Neo-Nazi, I was really nervous about the rest of my stay here in South Tyrol. But people have opened their homes, hearts, and families to me, and I am really grateful for that experience. I hope that when all my new friends come to the US, I can give them the same kind of homey feeling that I experienced here.

Chestnut Hearts - ground chestnut paste in a heart covered in chocolate - so good!!
5. Coffee is life and there is no reason to be ashamed of the number of espressos you drink during one day.  My worse coffee day was 5 coffees in a 8 hour work day but in my defense, all of the coffee here is good and so inexpensive so you really can't help yourself. I bought two of the stovetop espresso makers to use back in the US and you can also buy replacements on Amazon!!

Alta Badia area - I loved sitting up here with a book or chatting quietly with friends after a hike :)
6. I used to be someone who never used their phone and with the purchase of an iPhone, I became tethered to this device and all the people I could reach with it. Something about the mountains here is that there is no cell service on a lot of them and that is such a wondrous thing. To be fully disconnected in this digital age is a balm to your soul and something I now practice even when not in the mountains. Put that bad boy on airplane mode or do not disturb, pop on a face mask, pump up some tunes in your home, and read a book for the evening. People can wait until tomorrow - I promise.

Oktoberfest friends - left guy is from New Zealand and right from Atlanta!
7. There are very few things that I won't try at least once and that has always yielded me some interesting experiences. When someone asks you to do something, as long as you wont go to jail for it, I say try it! That goes for food, physical activity and new types of alcohols or anything really.  I did not know anyone going to Oktoberfest so I went on a women's travel group on Facebook, messaged a bunch of people and let the chips fall where they may. While there, I ended up meeting up with a coworker and met some really awesome people from a few different countries. Also, if asked, just go to the sauna and do the ice bath afterwards - don't question it, just do it and thank me later for how good your body feels.

Hanging my feet over the side of the pier in Trieste - not shown is the sandwich I chowed down on ;)
8. A really good pair of walking shoes is worth ten pairs of cute shoes. With all of the walking, biking, hiking, and dancing I did in Europe, I learned quickly that the right shoes for the activity may be ugly but they are always the way to go. On long trips, I lived in my Allbirds and I am forever obsessed with the Sam Edelman flats I brought with me and wore to the ground.

Exploring in Denmark with my best friend! 
9 . Stop stressing about small things. There were so many times when I was traveling or at work or in a store during this rotation that I got anxiety about an interaction knowing that my German is terrible or that I did not have the right answer or I did not know how I was going to get something done. In the end, all of those moments passed, I am still alive and well, and there was no need for me to get so stressed about it. It can be really hard in the moment to realize but I am finally starting to understand there is no need to stress about anything as it always works out in the end.

Chilling on a sailboat in Trieste during the Barcalona - 2100 sailboats on the water during the race!
10. Something that I love about people in South Tyrol is their zest for life while being super efficient at work. When they are outside of work, they spend time doing things that are important to them whether it be hiking or spending time with family or dancing the evening away at a local bar. Whatever it is that is your passion, you are responsible for making time in your life to do it and prioritizing your mental well-being above the needs of others. Part of my personality is that I can be at work until 7 pm and not even blink as there are things to be done and I get consumed fully into what I am doing. It's my responsibility to set my priorities for eating, exercising, and seeing the people I care about because there will always be work to do and people who need something from you.

I really could wax on about what this time has meant to me but to finish my thoughts, living in a new country is daunting and daring but delicious and delightful that it is totally worth it in the end.

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