My illusions of living in Austria–one cannot refer to them as expectations–featured scenes of weekends spent carting off to little Eastern European villages snuggled amongst leafy trails with nothing but Ann The Trusty Trail Shoes, a solid Jules Verne read and a euro for a hearty cup of coffee.
I would power to the Hauptbahnhof train station, stroll up to the ticket booth and knowingly slide the myriads of 10 and 20 euro cent coins that would build up from the grocery budget. I would ask in a smooth and collective voice:
“Ticket to wherever this gets me, please.”
This to which the ticket booth lady–who would be an expressive example of Austrian female power, naturally–would look at me with pride at my boldness for traveling alone. She would compliment my savvy exploration budget, and perhaps teach her daughter to emulate this woman who asked for a ticket that cost €2,30.
Our entire conversation would take place in German, of course, as I fully expected to reach fluency with very little effort in the first couple of weeks. Maybe a month or so; I wanted to be realistic.
This €2,30 ticket would deposit me in the basin of the Austrian Alps; the trail head would naturally be situated directly across from the train station.
I would ease in my headphones, select the newest episode of the Rich Roll Podcast and be on my way up this mountain, dancing over the white-crested boulders, the chilling wind folding me in love and whispering through my hair while Rich Roll and I had an enlightening one-way conversation on the sustainability of the plant-based diet.
I would be constantly surprised at the state of my own fitness; but then I would think to myself, Oh, this makes sense. You walk everywhere all the time, Graz is rather spread out. Of course you are able to average steady 7:30 miles up this mountain.
Four months later and we find Josie, situated at a mediocre proficiency of German language knowledge, definitely not averaging 7:00-miles even on the roads, realizing that a €2,20 ticket will get her about 8km from Graz.
I’m not disappointed with the way that things turned out; I adore my beautiful lively, primarily-Bosnian flatmates, I am constantly overwhelmed at the amount of adventuring I’ve gotten to do over the weekends with decidedly the greatest humans of our generation. I’ve fallen in love with the primarily-road-based routes I’ve created for my sunrise running, now looking forward to flashing the peace sign at ensuing runners and remembering previous moments of running in that spot.
The German proficiency could be better, but it can’t all be peachy.
The most important difference between the current state of life in Austria and what I drew up in my mind entirely revolves around the importance of good people.
I completely forgot about them.
That’s what studying abroad has taught me.
I spontaneously decided to meander down to the southern part of Bosnia solo for a few days, badly in need of an influx of Vitamin D and a change of vibe. Because of the nature of planning for it–that being entirely null–I didn’t have any preconceptions of what I would do once I got to Bosnia.
I brought along with me Ann the Trusty Trail Shoes and Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, figuring that I would live out my days quite happily running, reading and writing in the full force of the southern oriental-inspired sun.
If that would have been how the entire weekend played out, my friends, I tell you that I would not have experienced the waterfall of introspection and personal development that I did.
Mostar, Bosnia during the end of November is off-season; the hoards of sun-craving tourists flashing oversized cameras at the photogenic architecture was at it’s blessed minimum.
The hostel that I stayed at was this eclectically narrow four-story alcove 10 minutes on foot from the bus station, nestled in an alley and featuring breathtaking mountain scenes on all sides, called Hostel Balkanarama.
Being off-season, I was the only guest; the other members residing in the hostel being semi-full time residents who maintained the hostel.
I have never, ever, ever met such a wonderful, magical troupe of inclusive individuals. They immediately brought me into the sanctity of their fellowship, exuding vibes of love, sustainable living, fascinations with culture and with appreciating life.
They brought me along to a documentary film festival on feminist Bosnians working in non-traditional careers (empowering to say the absolute least), took me out for Turkish coffee with the filmmakers (the funniest people I have ever, ever met), gave lessons on the art of fermentation and sourdough baking, made ample amounts of Turkish coffee for me.
We shared omelettes together, late ravaged lunches of roasted potatoes, ice cream; we spent a few hours together preparing authentic Argentinian empanadas on the last night.
The owner of the hostel was this insane Bosnian rocker who exudes the most extravagantly good-vibes, and his band was playing a gig at a local Bosnian club. The hostel residents invited me to be groupies with them, and we went and jammed to the greatest rock, none of which I understood.
The dance party commenced once we got back to the hostel, screaming at the top of our lungs to Shakira and Salt n’ Peppa and the Spice Girls with our microphones of ice-cream spoons until the middle of the night.
I still got the time to hike and to move, the time to rejuvenate in the sun and read inspiring enlightenment texts, to write and to rejoice in solitary moments with just my thoughts and the mountains.
But the people. The influx, the waterfall, the cascade of beautiful good people.
Everything will always boil down to love.
I need these people. My soul craves this connection, this inclusion, this blanket. This fellowship.
I love traveling solo, I love getting to make snap decisions and having to rely upon my own instinct and have to face challenges unsupported when they arise. There’s a lot of growth that has come from this.
But traveling solo for me has suddenly featured a different kind of end-goal: it’s no longer to recuperate from being around people all the time, to get a significant amount of alone time for me to do whatever I want to do.
It’s become a chance to learn how to understand other people better. To become like a local, to experience the culture through the people that have created this culture.
One can travel and learn and love from one’s own home country. But to do it like this? To experience this amount of travel, learning, love? It has to come from being out of one’s own cultural understanding. It takes traveling to a different cultural world.
My learning is far from over, and thankfully I have another semester to solidify personal development. I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to stop this influx of perspective and understanding.
I’ve always had the goal of joining the Peace Corps and living around the world, teaching English and writing as much as possible. Before this year, that goal was never fully realistic to me because I had no idea if I would be “good at” living abroad on my own.
Now I realize that I’m addicted to it.