Welcome to this week’s That One Time In – the feature where fellow travelers share their stories of travel, adventure and everything in between. If you would like to take part please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org or @WhereinWorldKP – I would love to hear from you!
This week’s That One Time In features Hayley Howe who discusses her struggles through living in two different countries. This is her story:
After living in Italy for two years now, I think its time to shed a little light on living abroad. When you think about it, living in another country should be perfect, right? When I casually drop the “I live in Italy” bomb into a conversation with someone who doesn’t know me well, I see their eyes start to glaze over, and can only imagine they are picturing scenes of me clinging to the back of Gregory Peck’s Vespa and zipping through the streets of Rome a la Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, or being mistaken for a famous pop star and in turn becoming an international pop sensation myself.
No. Stop. Desist.
Don’t get me wrong, I love living in Italy and wouldn’t trade it for the world (since a pretty decent chunk of the world comes along with the deal), but everyone has this misconception that everything in Italy, and life abroad in general, comes in this cute little package that comes straight from every sorority girl’s “wanderlust” Pinterest board. Some people can’t seem to wrap their minds around the fact that not everyone is a supermodel, or a member of the mafia, and men do not serenade you in the streets… at least not all the time. Living your life constantly split between being in a different country with a totally different culture and language, and the place you spent your whole life in– with friends, loved ones, and the familiarity that comes with it—comes with its own set of challenges that I still have to face to this day, and will probably not stop facing.
So, in the spirit of compartmentalizing that we seem to enjoy so much these days, here is a list of the 5 most unexpected hassles you have when living in two places at once.
“Will this fit in two suitcases” is a potentially life-altering question
For two years and counting, my life has been compartmentalized into the mindset of “will this stuff all fit into two suitcases?” When most people go shopping, the biggest problem they face is a size, or a price, or even a weird color or an itchy fabric. Most people do not walk through the mall and question what essential piece of clothing would need to sacrifice it’s precious place in one of the two suitcases sitting under my bed that would inevitably be packed up like clockwork in December, and again in May, to make yet another jump across the pond. At this point, I consider myself a master in the art of filling my suitcase to the exact weight limit without a scale, and without leaving behind any essentials. Its an art form, really.
Driving: You can’t live with it, can’t live without it
This one time in high school, I got in trouble and my mom grounded me. Part of my punishment involved forfeiting my driving privileges for three days, which at the time was the worst thing to ever happen to anyone, ever, in the history of being grounded. When you live abroad, you find that driving for the most part becomes obsolete. Italy—and Europe in general—has a train system that puts American trains to shame. Virtually anywhere you want to go will have a train running in that direction. Once you get where you want to go, chances are that you’ll be better off walking around than you would be driving, because the roads in big cities like Rome or Florence are a labyrinth of one way streets and do not enters, and there are so many pedestrians that you will literally get around faster on foot than in a car. And with sights like these, who would want to be trapped in a car?
So how is this a hassle? Well, after a 3-month driving detox over the summer, just imagine the first time you get back in a car you have to drive around Tallahassee, more specifically down Tennessee street. During rush hour. The result is an increase in blood pressure and swearing only comparable to FSU fans during the first half of the BCS National Championship.
You don’t want to look at the size of those pants
So while I may have said that not every Italian woman is a super model, that does not mean that the average weight of the average 20-something woman (see: rail thin) doesn’t wildly skew the size spectrum and make the rest of us feel like piles of blubber washed up on a beach. In the states, or even in France, I clock in somewhere between the 2-4 range. In Italy, that size skyrockets to a size 6, and sometimes even an 8. Horrible. The only remedy I’ve come up with is by rationalizing that Italy is actually a parallel universe where sizes actually get smaller as the number gets bigger. Or I just refuse to look at the tags. This problem also relates back to the Great Suitcase Dilemma.
In The Lizzie Mcguire Movie, they show the winding streets of Rome, calm and peaceful. The glaring reality is that you find yourself drowning in a pack of rabid tourists virtually any time of the year, but especially during the summer. Whether the slow-moving fanny pack crowd, or the hordes of no less than 150 that arrive on a fleet of busses, the never-ending parade of tourists exists only to irritate and enrage you. They block the sidewalks, and sometimes the roads, and walk at a glacial pace when they are in front of you, talking loudly and blissfully unaware of how many people want to run them over with a car
Always being pulled two different directions
Splitting time between America and Italy is equal parts bitter and sweet. No matter which direction I’m flying to, it always involves tearful goodbyes to family and friends, and cultures that I love. There are few people who understand the feeling of constantly walking the fence between your old life and the one that is being rolled out in front of you. The pain of leaving the ones you love behind, maybe even losing one or two, is indescribable, just as the rush of adventure and the thrill of the unknown is equally indescribable. Living in such distinctly unique places shapes and molds you so that you are no longer a part of just one way of life. The old cultures of your home melt and mesh with the cultures of your new life, and have a way of seeping under your skin and soaking into your bones, and turning you into a totally new person.
So while the hassles of being out of your comfort zone might be intimidating, dive in and take the challenge head on. Travel broadens your mind and gives you a new perspective on the world, and yourself. After a while, those things that once seemed so exasperating all fade away to make room for the life-changing experiences you have during your travels. Only having two suitcases helps you learn how to truly value what you have. Not driving makes you stop and appreciate the beauty of the journey, not the length of it. Tourists become fellow travelers and friends as you share experiences over a slice of pizza and a glass of wine, or across the aisle of a train. Most the distance between you and those you love only teaches you how to cherish every moment you spend with them, and to always keep them close.
Hayley Howe is a 20-year-old PR student at the Florida State University, with one foot in the States and the other in Europe. She lives part time in Italy and spends her free time attempting to visit 21 countries before her 21st birthday and binge-watching Netflix sit-coms.