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Posted by Claire Mokrauer-Madden at 4:49AM   |  Add a comment

As ever, semesters come to an end, competitions are entered and competitions are won.  Fall 2011's winner has words of wisdom for anyone traveling the world, including bravery in the face of octopus.  Congratulations on winning the travel writing competition, Sara Gardner!  Here's Sara's essay, and if you like her wit and want more of where that came from, she's got a blog full of it: http://a-girl-abroad.blogspot.com/

As I lounged leisurely on the white sand with a cocktail in hand, the rays of the sun warming each of my pores, I pondered the things I had learned since being in Europe, the relationships I’ve gained and the meaning of life.

    …Okay. That’s not exactly true, although at one point I was on a beach with white sand and a balmy sun, however the closest thing to a cocktail would have been the bucket of nuts that a man was trying to peddle to everyone and their mother, and the only thing I was pondering was why ladies slightly past their prime really feel it necessary to sunbathe without a top on. But in all seriousness, I have had some enlightening and wonderful experiences while traveling abroad, and me being the kind and generous person that I am, will share a few of them with you.

1.    RyanAir: A Blessing and A Curse.

The prices of the flights are heavenly; when I saw that I could get a plane to Italy for a mere $24, I practically choked on my own spit. But, what ensues afterwards is like a cruel sitcom. You’re guaranteed to have to travel to one of the obscure London airports (my favorite is Luton… mismatched warehouses in the middle of nowhere? Perfect!) You can be sure that you’ll have to travel at the wee hours of the night when the tube is closed. After navigating the night busses and taking some sort of coach or train, you’ve arrived! False. Now try and make your way to the ticket counter, where you will need to wait with your already printed boarding pass to get a stamp on it and have your passport checked the first of three times, just to be sure. After edging your way through the security line (and being behind incompetent Sally who leaves her belt and five necklaces on going through the scanner) you arrive at the gate! This would be joyous, except for the fact that now everyone will passively aggressively try and inch their way to the front of the gate, in hopes that they will snag that illustrious perfect seat. Even after being on the flight, you’re bombarded with buy this, buy that, get a lotto ticket, pay for the loo, et cetera. But hey, it gets you there and back. And it was $24.

2.    When In Doubt, Gesture It Out.

There were two things I was always guaranteed of when traveling: one, that the country I’m going to will have their own language and two, I wouldn’t be able to speak it. Sadly, I don’t know a lick of any other language besides English… and American English, at that. Usually I can get some sort of a gist of what words are referring to or communicate by pointing and nodding, but when it came to ordering food, well… That’s when things get a bit iffy. For instance, in Spain I asked the waitress for “tap water.” She looked at me as if I had a big, oozing sore festering in the middle of my face. “I do not understand,” she says. I replied, “Water from the faucet? The sink?” I then proceeded to mime turning on a sink. My sore must have been pulsating, because I got more horrified looks of disgust and confusion. Then she made a gagging noise and gaped at me some more. I gave up with my tap water endeavor after this and said “bottle” and made some bottle motions. She looked skeptically at me and walked away. (I did receive a bottle of water, thankfully.)

3.    Just Go With It…

Things don’t always go as planned. Actually, most of the time they don’t go as planned. The only real option is to simply roll with the punches and the quirks of traveling. If someone asks you to hold their baby while they take a picture on top of the Eiffel Tower, just go with it. Hold that baby, and try not to be too sad when they ask for it back. If you’re sitting at a table and two guys who speak little to no English approach you and want to buy you roses, just go with it. You’ll know you’re doing it right when you’re acting so uncomfortable it prompts one of the men who can hardly speak English to ask, “Why can’t you just be normal?” Or when you order something called ‘mixed fish’ on a menu and receive a plate full of octopus tentacles with the suckers still on, just go with it. Pretend like it’s the best octopus tentacles you’ve eaten since last week, and secretly pawn them off on the people who are eating at the table with you because well, let’s face it, octopus tentacles are disgusting.

Sadly – or awesomely! – all of these experiences are my own and completely true. Although I’m not sitting at a beach with a cocktail in my hand and the sun beating down on me, I can’t help but to reflect on how amazing my experiences have been and how truly awkward I have acted in every single one of them. But each place I’ve traveled to and each culture I’ve been exposed to has helped me to grow more as a person and enabled me to gain an understanding of other cultures that I wouldn’t have been able to learn had I not been put in some of the situations that I have been in. It’s been a crazy, wonderful four months in Europe that I’ll never forget. I will also never forget that I’ve eaten an octopus. Ew.


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