When I meet friends and family for the first time after returning from Ireland, a fair number of them tell me, 'Well, you haven't changed too much. Just the same old Amy I remember from 6 months ago.' And I think, huh, 'Interesting, because you've changed.' Maybe not very much, but everybody has changed in at least some respect. And I also think, 'Well, damn. Because that's kind of the point of study abroad.' If I haven't changed, have I learned nothing?
One of the largest changes I notice in myself is a new-found appreciation for where I live. Every day since I've returned I am struck with the realization that I kind of live in a forest which is not very well-known and probably one of the most beautiful places in the world. Yeah, okay: there are quite a few urban areas. Even then, it is NOTHING compared to Europe. Case in point: nobody from Not The US knows where Oregon is on a map. It's North of California.
We are also spoiled with our trees. I can smell the fresh air and pine each morning, I can see the stars at night, I can watch the deer come down from the nature reserve to eat the flowers from my neighbor's garden. In what I thought was the 'burbs. I'd get to places described by others defining beauty and I'd think, Yeah, I guess this is pretty nice, thinking at the same time about how the Pacific Northwest has some of the tallest trees in the world and the Oregon Coast and the tree and snow covered mountains you fly through as you approach the PDX airport right around sunset (do they do this on purpose?) and the Columbia Gorge. And I realize that it's not fair to compare other places to the Pacific Northwest, because we really do live in a comparatively rugged, unspoiled region of the planet and the type of beauty we have here is not the same type you find in, say, Cork. I guess the real comparison lies not in the natural beauty of these places, but in how easy it is to access it. In Oregon, one is never too far.
It's not that I had to appreciate Europe less to appreciate Oregon and the United States more--it's that my time away from the US highlighted the aspects of its culture that I really identify with. This was especially important to me because, before leaving, I picked out what I didn't agree with and developed a fairly cynical view of American society. (As a side note, I feel like that cynicism is a fairly common trait among my generation, which looks at everything going on and wonders if the world is going to shit and knows that big change needs to come, soon.) The more time I spent away, the more I realized how much of and what aspects of American culture I do identify with and that helped me feel more connected to home. As in, I love the Pacific Northwest. I think this is where I want my home to be for awhile. It's gorgeous, the people are chill, and it's probably one of the best places in the world to be a female engineer.
PNW praising aside, another big topic connected with travel is stereotype-smashing. People tend to say that travel will crush your stereotypes, so I left expecting my stereotypes to be crushed. Maybe it's because I expected it that it didn't really happen. Call me a terrible person--I think traveling actually reinforced them more than it destroyed. For example, before visiting Italy I believed that I would be subjected to a lot more street harassment there than in the US. Yes, it is true. I was promptly honked at while walking down the street a record of 4 times in 5 minutes, beating the previous Corvallis record of 3 times over 20 minutes. However, despite this, I will say that my experience away reinforced my belief that people are more similar than different. I was constantly reminded that we are all driven by the same fears, needs, hopes and desires.
Well, that post certainly became long. I suppose this an abrupt way to end such a rambling post. Then again, I've said what I wanted to and was willing to say and I hope you have all enjoyed reading my blog. With that, go raibh maith agat (thank you), oiche mhaith (good night), and well wishes on all of your own adventures.
See you on the flip side.