I’ve been feeling a lot lately. Happy, frustrated, lonely, depressed, curious, amused, hopeful. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and stepping out of my comfort zone recently. Traveling will do that; especially when you’re traveling alone. It will force you to do things you never thought you were capable of doing. Like going to a Spa Party in Budapest by yourself or meeting up with a language exchange group you’ve never met before. There’s adrenaline and hope that everything will be alright, but also anxiety and fear: what if no one likes me? What if they think I’m weird? What if they’re weird? And somehow, I am able to move past the “what if” questions and dive in, head first.
My most recent adrenaline and anxiety fueled experience was a language exchange meet-up. When I first showed up it was a bit awkward. But maybe that’s because I’m awkward. What should I say? How should I act? It is in these moments that it is clear how my personality flips from being extroverted to introverted. The extrovert got me to the bar, it got me to sit down and introduce myself. But then the introvert tells me to not talk so much, to observe and listen, and only speak when spoken to. So I’m quiet, I listen to others tell their stories. But then they become curious of the quiet new-comer. As they ask me questions and I give simple answers, their curiosity grows and some become somewhat fascinated. “It’s so rare to find a Native English speaker from the USA in Bielsko,” someone says. I hear this all the time. “You’re from NYC? Why would you ever move here?!” another person questions. I hear this all the time too. I simply smile and explain my reasons for traveling. Social Justice. Knowledge. Growth. UNICEF. The Peace Corps. Once again, people are fascinated. As if the thought of working with a for other humans and their rights is just as foreign as the American living in the small city in Poland. And maybe it is. So more questions. My introvert role of sitting on the sidelines observing now switches back to my extrovert, answering questions about travels, telling stories of poverty and hope, and confessing truths about the conservative country of which we all currently live in. These are the moments I live for. These are the reasons I travel. To connect. To discuss. To meet people living within their reality and for people to meet me living within mine. To talk, to learn, to understand.
At some point my introvert kicks in again. I sit. I observe. I listen. I reflect. How fortunate am I to have been born in a country that speaks English. Because of this truth, I am able to travel the world and take part in groups where English is the common language. I’m surrounded by people speaking my first language as their second language. I am bewildered and humbled. At some point I begin to talk to 2 members in Spanish. The 3 of us, meeting in Poland, speaking a second language (or 3rd for them), and I finally feel a part of the magic and mystery of conversing with strangers in a language you’ve studied and worked so hard to master. My heart was filled with pure happiness.
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately and it’s mostly been about this: people make or break experiences; we need other people. My best travel experiences have been because of other people. Every time I step out of my comfort zone and force myself into social situations, they end up being great and they are memories that stand out among the rest. People need other people. I need other people. And that’s okay.
I moved to Poland by myself, with the idea that I needed to learn how to be happy and satisfied with myself. That I shouldn’t depend on other people for happiness. And part of this is true. But after 6 months of focusing on myself, I’ve realized just how much I miss deep conversations, deep connections, and most importantly feeling and experiencing raw and deep emotions. So here’s to being happy and satisfied not just with myself, but with the relationships I hope to maintain, create, and foster with those I meet outside of my comfort zone.