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You Will Get Lost Abroad… and It Will Be The Best Thing to Happen to You

On May 16, 2016 I boarded a plane headed home to America after spending a year abroad in two different European countries. Like any other study abroad student, I did my fair share of travelling… and getting lost. Sure, I guess you could say I mean that figuratively, but in this case I mean literally getting lost.

As a young woman, I’ve been told not to go on solo adventures, especially not in a foreign country. But, that’s some of the best advice I have ever ignored. Whether in my base-countries of Italy and Ireland, or on some whirlwind trip, being by myself with streets paved centuries earlier were the moments where I felt most intimately connected to whatever city I happened to be in.

I remember the first time it happened. I was in Rome, one of the places I had studied, wandering down the Via Del Corso, aka the street to shop on in La Citta Eterna, when I veered off the straight path and found myself unsure of exactly where I was. Google maps was no help and I didn’t want to be a target for pickpockets, so I kept walking with my head up and the feeling of panic that had set in was replaced with something that was hard to describe.

That night I found myself all over the city, just enjoying being there. Being in a very regimented and intense study abroad program that semester, it was just what I needed. I ended up listening to the chatter of tourists and locals, admiring the beautiful buildings, and seeing the Trevi Fountain, which had been under construction until that point, in its spectacular, refurbished and fully functional state.

Fast forward a semester, I had just touched down in Paris. Ever since I first cracked open Madeline at age three or four, I had the Eiffel tour and ivy-covered edifices dancing through my dreams. In the interim of waiting for my friend to arrive from Copenhagen, hunger and excitement took me to a patisserie in nearby Montmartre, where the distant view of the Sacre Coeur inspired me to take a walk.

Not realizing just how far the church was and deciding to turn back, I discovered that my phone service was not working and I had lost all sense of direction. Stranded in Paris, fresh off a plane, I had only my hostel address and five years of French language classes to guide me. Immediately, the worst-case scenario of not making it back that night crossed my mind.

But, just as in Rome, I soon found myself appreciating my lack of preparedness. I tread over Parisian cobblestones for over two hours that day, but I learned so much about the city and even got to practice my French. The unfriendly Parisian stereotype that I had feared and been warned about many times was disproved, when (with lackluster French skills), I popped into little shops to ask for directions and discovered that most people were eager to help me.

Eventually, I calmed down and found myself appreciating the city’s beauty and, of course, did eventually make it back. But, the lesson I learned from these two experiences, and many others, is that getting lost isn’t exactly a bad thing. We’re so dependent on our phones and our friends that we forget the real reason to go abroad: to experience what is unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

Had I not gotten lost in Rome, maybe I wouldn’t have known that the Trevi fountain was working again. If my phone hadn’t stopped working in Paris, I wouldn’t have learned just how warm and wonderful many Parisians are, despite their negative reputation.

I’m not saying to throw away your maps and hope you’ll eventually be back safely in whatever bed you are supposed to sleep in that night. But, what I am saying is that getting lost will happen and it will not be the end of the world. Don’t sweat it, just appreciate the amazing place that you are in.

Also, maybe you should put your phone away — snapchat will always be there when you get back to America.

Images courtesy of the author.

Alexandra (Alex) is a Senior classics and religion double major and Campus Correspondent at Dickinson College. On campus, Alex is a first-year mentor, plays club sports, and is an active member of Kappa Alpha Theta. In her spare time, Alex is a self-confessed Food Network junkie and shopaholic. After graduation, she would love to work at a magazine or a PR agency. You can find her on instagram and twitter at @astagsss.
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