When thinking about my Harlaxton experience so far, one word specifically pops into my head. That word is adaptability. Now, I could be cliché and tell you the definition of adaptability from the Oxford English Dictionary, or I can tell you what it means to me. I am going to do the latter.
Adaptability means adjusting your views and ways of being to new environments, situations, and people. When you travel throughout Europe every weekend like many of us do here at Harlaxton, that can be very useful. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to adapt to the places I’ve been.
As I mentioned earlier, adapting to new environments is an important thing to learn. Everyone one of us have had to do this a few times. Just coming to England alone was an adjustment we had to make. One small example of this is having to bring reusable shopping bags to the store or paying for plastic bags. While this may have been a nuisance at first, we now instinctively grab our Morrison bags before hopping on the 1:10 shuttle. Another is the subway system in London. I can’t speak for others, but I was terrified to use the Tube at first. With so many people and so many stops, I was sure I would lose my friends and wind up alone in London. Now, I can’t imagine trying to travel around London without it. My ability to “mind the gap” has dramatically increased in the past 3 months.
Adapting to new environments can be especially tricky when that country speaks a different language. So far, I have been to Budapest and Barcelona, and communicating with locals isn’t the easiest task. But as I’ve learned, you make it work. Although our taxi driver did not speak English and I don’t speak Spanish, we showed him the location we needed to get to on our phone and he was able to understand. When in a desperate situation, you can always find a way.
Acknowledging and understanding that need to adapt, I now feel better prepared for many situations. One BIG example of this for me was packing. As someone who loves clothes, I tend to pack approximately 20 times as many clothes as I need. During this study abroad experience, I learned real quick that you can’t fit a lot of clothes in a small, Ryanair-acceptable sized backpack. I now have the ability to make everything I bring on weekend travel count; if I won’t wear or use it, I won’t bring it.
Another situation I feel less worried about is pick pocketing. Maybe its just me, but I’ve never had to worry about pick pocketing before. Now, I am aware of my belongings when I travel. At home, I feel less aware of my surroundings because I am in familiar areas. Here, however, I need to keep a certain level of vigilance. Thankfully, I’ve only learned this from witnessing others getting pick pocketed, not from myself, but it is important all the same.
The final thing I’ve had to learn to adapt to is people. This includes both the locals in other countries and the people at Harlaxton. When 130 students are thrown in a manor together and see each other every day, you quickly have to adapt to different types of people. You live with this group for 4 months, so you don’t want to burn any bridges. Learning to live with people who are different than me has been a vital skill throughout this experience. It has allowed me to not let others ruin my fun, as well as my temper ruining that for others. Sometimes you may travel with someone you think you are going to love, and it turns out you just aren’t that compatible. Sometimes you may travel with someone you were worried you’d hate, but you end up having a great time. THAT’S OKAY!
Travelling is such a unique experience, and you aren’t going to want to do it the same as everyone. Adapting your views to others and, hopefully, others adapting theirs to yours is the best way to not let strong opinions ruin a weekend in Ireland, or Greece, or wherever you may be going.
And although I am writing this like I am some adaptability genius, I still struggle with a lot of cultural difference every day. Some are small things like tipping (which I still haven’t figured out when or when not to do it), avoiding eye contact (because not all countries are as upfront and friendly as Americans), crossing the street (because when the cars drive on the other side of the road, it is easy to accidentally step into traffic), and even doing the peace sign (because apparently the peace sign in
Europe is equivalent to the middle finger). That last one I have a lot of trouble with.
Overall, it is important to learn how to adapt to your surroundings. That skill will take you far in life, in school, jobs, with family, etc. Being at Harlaxton and travelling throughout Europe has allowed me to see my own abilities and has made me a more confident person. It has made me recognise my own habits and beliefs while still respecting the lives of those very different from my own.