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Lessons in Europe: Letting Go and Looking for Rainbows

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SLU chapter.

Sometimes there will be things that you just won’t understand.

One of the most confusing moments I’ve had in my travels this semester was trying to figure out what kind of ticket my friends and I needed to buy for our transportation in Germany. With none of us knowing much German and a ticket system that was confusing even when translated into English, we stood at the ticket machine scratching our heads for quite some time. It didn’t help that the programmed set of buttons was a complex maze—if you tried to go back one screen, you had to start all over again. At one point, I thought I had picked the right ticket, only to find out that I had to select a minimum of three children’s fares in addition to the adult fares we needed to purchase the ticket I picked. This dumbfounded me, and we quickly grew frustrated. 

Eventually, my friends and I picked a ticket and just went with it, having no certainty that it would get us where we needed to be. Even once we got on the train, it was unclear how we were supposed to validate our ticket, making us question if we even needed to worry about what ticket we got in the first place. Despite our best efforts, we never really figured the system out. And we really tried. Soon, though, the trivial train ticket was a funny anecdote and a puzzle I still sometimes wonder about. We laughed about how much trouble we had and nearly forgot about it as we watched the German countryside fly by. 

Sometimes my Type-A personality makes it hard for me to get to the forgetting about it step. I often find myself replaying conversations I had throughout the day, making lists in my head and being irritated by any question I can’t quickly get the answer to. I am one to whip out my phone and just Google it whenever questions aren’t quickly answered with certainty. This has always been something that bothers me after the fact. Yes, I get the answer, but it’s always less interesting than I had hoped it would be. The moment of anticipation before the answer flashes on my screen as I run through possible answers in my head and my curious anticipation builds is so much more exciting than the feeling I get moments after I read the answer. I have always had this need-to-know impatient curiosity about the world. My dad can attest to the fact that I was always irritated when he didn’t have all the answers to the silly questions little kids ask. I often have a hard time accepting “I don’t know” as an answer. This is elevated to a whole other level when I am put in situations that are utterly uncontrollable.

Nothing is more out of our control than the weather. Even the mention of bad weather will now elicit a groan from me and the people I have traveled with, because we know too well what it is like to constantly have bad luck with the weather. Whether it was rainy, cloudy, cold, windy, or, as is most often the case, a combination of all of these, clouds seemed to follow us around. But one of the things I’ve come back to time and time again this semester is that when things get dark and cloudy, it is so important to have perspective. 

When I pictured my winter break trip to Brussels and Paris, I pictured the sunny summer weather I had when I visited Paris two years ago with my family. But when we got there—you guessed it—it was cold and rainy. Despite checking the forecast before leaving, I was overly hopeful that things would just work out, leaving me foolishly unprepared for the weather we had. It ended up raining every day, and I will never forget the cold feeling in my hands as I walked around. But even at that moment, I remembered the obvious fact that yes, it was cold, but I was in Paris!

At one point when we were in Brussels, my friends and I sat in a cathedral, hoping to get a moment to rest and some time out of the rain. All of a sudden, the cathedral filled with sunlight. Enlightened by what seemed like a sign from God, I encouraged my friends to go outside: “the sun is shining, we should catch it before it goes behind another cloud,” I thought. We hurried out, only to find ourselves in the midst of a… sun shower! A sun downpour, if you will. We were amazed by the vision in front of us: sheets of rain coming down from a bright sky. I was also disheartened. It felt like we had been tricked. All I had wanted was a moment of bright, dry sunlight and it seemed so possible, but that was not at all what we experienced. But when we turned around, lighting up the sky behind us was a giant rainbow. 

When things get cold, rainy, sad, stressful, or evoke any other disheartening emotion this semester, I remember how much harder things have been and could be for me. Shifting my perspective to remember all the good things in my life makes it so much easier to zip up my raincoat and carry on. 

I’ve come to realize how wildly unfair it is to expect the world to be explainable and how much I miss out on when I don’t let myself be curious and lean into the uncontrollable, at least for a moment. 

Expecting there to be answers to everything often leads to forgetting the fact that the world is full of mysteries. This is contrary to the world I’ve grown up with, which has promised that all the possible answers I could want are at my fingertips. My experience through studying abroad has reminded me that that is not and will never be the case. Even Google couldn’t help us on our German ticket quest. But we ultimately got where we needed to be. I must accept that there are things that don’t make sense, that can’t be understood. The world sometimes just works like a German train ticket booth: mysteriously and nonsensically. Similarly, the fact that there is no controlling the weather has been ingrained in me, and even when you plan for it, as I know too well, you may end up with soggy socks. But with every shiver, every raindrop, every squelch through a puddle, I was reminded of what makes us human. We take in the good, but mostly, we grow from the bad, sad, uncomfortable and stressful. The moments that break us down teach us how strong we are. And yes, I am talking about getting rained on in my travels around Europe, so it’s not that deep, but these trivial but frustrating reminders are still useful. 

There is joy found in the questions we ask as we try to puzzle these things out, knowing that often there will not be an answer. The curious experiences we have in life, the ones that are out of our control and out of our understanding are sometimes the most beautiful and life-giving. Often, there is nothing else you can do but get on the train and keep going.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn so much, see such incredible, historic and beautiful things, and grow with every new lesson. There is no use in trying to plan for every bad thing or search for every answer because, at our core, we are beings made to adapt. From me – a type-A, overly-planning, answers-driven person – to you, sometimes you just need to let go and look for the rainbows.

Writer and Section Editor at HERCampus Saint Louis University (currently at the Madrid campus), double majoring in English and History. Chicagoan, Volleyball player, Survivor superfan, baker, and lover of the band First Aid Kit, puzzles and card games.