Shortly after receiving a confirmation of my spot in Emerson’s Kasteel Well program this July, a 20-page long information packet hit my inbox.
I won my seat after a student dropped out and spent the rest of my summer scrambling to find outlet converters, my passport, and a Vera Bradley duffel bag big enough to shove my shoes into. I skimmed the Castle Student Survey — the aforementioned 24,000-word long document full of advice from students of programs past. “The pillows aren’t too comfy, you may want to bring your own,” I read. I made a mental note to beware of the vegetables in the dining hall, which are allegedly “cooked past the point of nutrition.” And after reading, “BRING A LOT OF SOCKS AND UNDERPANTS…you never know man,” I vowed to do so.
I perused the hundreds of bullet points promising this experience would be the “BEST ever” and advising that I “cherish every moment.” I read London was amazing, Portugal made a perfect spring break destination, and the five-story club in Budapest was a must-visit. These comments, along with the Facebook albums I’d stalked before departing for the Netherlands, left me anticipating an enchanting semester filled with art galleries, worldly memories with friends, moving interactions with locals, and lots of wine.
But what my research failed to prepare me for was how difficult the traveling can be. When I applied, I pictured myself strolling through the streets of Paris with a croissant and coffee in hand, taking photos in front of the Colosseum in Rome, and getting a glimpse of the London Eye. I imagined I’d be whisked away by the lure of Spanish music in Barcelona and warmly welcomed by the charms of Ireland, Amsterdam, and Venice. While these idealistic visions have proven true to some extent, my semester has been far from these glamorous images.
My picture-perfect dreams and visions came at a cost. Sure, I climbed the Eiffel Tower at night, glanced over that railing, seeing Paris illuminated, and it took my breath away. But those 10 minutes of serenity came after a 10-hour, delayed bus ride from Amsterdam in a cramped, sweaty MegaBus with a toilet that didn’t flush. The warmest welcome I received in Ireland was from a drunken best man asking me to sign his backside before his brother’s wedding. The first time I saw the London Eye, I was hiding underneath my rain jacket, shivering after not being allowed into my hostel because someone had slipped in a shower that morning and flooded half the building. How one does that, exactly, is still questionable, but that is beside the point.
When I come back to Boston on Dec. 11, I will be more mature. My life will have changed in the vague ways the student survey respondents said it would. But this growth does not come easily, and it doesn’t come from the experiences you might think. Traveling takes a mental, physical, and economical toll. The 5:30 a.m. flights, nights spent spooning a friend for warmth on a cold airport floor, and train rides with upwards of seven transfers are challenging. When I return, I will be bruised and exhausted. I will likely have this same phlegmy cough that has stuck with me since week two. The state of my bank account will be very, very dismal.
But these are all necessary evils. You have to force yourself to experience the world — claw and drag yourself through the perpetual sickness, the transportation delays, naps taken on hostel sheets with suspicious stains, and life threateningly-abrupt RyanAir landings. The struggle makes the experience. If I had gone to Europe and floated through eight capital cities, I would not have learned as much about myself or the nine different countries I visited. My spastic battle through the continent was far more eye-opening and real.
Future attendees of the Castle, take everything in; expect opposition; budget wisely; and, most importantly, remember to have a sense of humor when, say, a toothless man in Berlin proposes oral sex to you. Oh, and make sure to bring a lot of socks and underwear … Because you never know, man.