There’s a stereotype of Americans travelling Europe always describing their experience as “life-changing.” Every place they visit? Life-changing. Every food they try? Life-changing. Every sight they pose next to for a killer Instagram post? Life-changing.
Evidently it’s quite annoying to Europeans, whom, I’ve been told, actively avoid traveling during ‘American Season.’
I’ve been living in Europe — and doing some light traveling thus far, with many more trips planned — for three months and a handful of days, and it has been life-changing. But can I say that? Do I need to?
I’m boarding a plane to Germany tomorrow and, truth be told, if the experience doesn’t change my life, I’ll be a bit disappointed.
Walking through the Holocaust Museum in Berlin will undoubtedly make me cry, but more than that I hope it levels me with the severity of that tragedy like nothing else. I hope it makes me a more empathetic person, able to grasp the magnitude of the genocide more firmly than I could beforehand.
Sitting on an overnight bus through the heart of Germany, I’ll know my ancestors likely walked these streets. [And if they didn’t, I’m thousands of miles closer to where they would have walked than I was in the States. That’s something, at least.] I don’t know that it will, but I’m praying it gives me an idea of how difficult it must have been for them to leave, to travel to a brand new country. I was nervous travelling and I have GPS, money, the internet, and a cell phone…
Munich’s mayor tapping the first keg of beer at high noon to begin Oktoberfest has literally filled my dreams over the past week. Though I’ve never had them in Germany, I don’t enjoy bratwurst, sauerkraut, or dark beers; I’ll have them all while there. I am not heading to the world’s largest festival to stay in my comfort zone. So foods and drinks I cannot pronounce, I’m coming for you.
These events may not change me in huge ways or even ways noticeable to other people, but I do believe things in Ireland — and Europe more broadly — have changed me. Seeing a family name from centuries back shallowly engraved on a crumbling headstone in a Dublin cemetery has altered the way I understand my identity.
That was the whole point of moving here.
I believe, to an extent, most experiences that are not daily occurrences are life-changing; albeit sometimes small, these instances shape who you are. If travelling to a new country on the other side of the world doesn’t affect you, something is wrong.
Seeing the ruins of buildings built thousands of years before your birth, natural geographic formations that have been in the works since the beginning of time, and societies that have evolved parallel to yours in entirely unfamiliar ways should alter your understanding of things around you, which in turn changes your life. The shift may not be in some marked distinction, categorizing your life into pre- and post- experience periods, but at least in small ripples originating from that brand new comprehension.
Perhaps Europeans are more connected to their history and their identity all along, so they recognize these supposedly life-changing experiences as simply experiences. Because all experiences shape you and change you, these just feel more exotic to us Americans. Personally, I’d rather these moments feel overly important than run-of-the-mill.
I’ll let you all know if my life feels changed after Germany.