This is going to be a long post so hold on tight.
The week before the last days of classes, I went on a solo trip to Brussels, Bruges and Berlin. Part of my goals for studying abroad is to push my boundaries and comfort zone. A lot of people that I know who have studied abroad, as well as current teachers had said that traveling alone was a life-changing experience. What better time to try it than now? Initially as I was booking the hostel and buying the flight tickets, I was really empowered and excited, but the week preceding my trip, I was getting more anxious and nervous. I was unsure if I could really do this on my own without a companion, and had no idea what to expect.
I had landed in Brussels in the evening and once I got off the plane and tried to figure out the language, I knew I was immediately way in over my head. I had not completely planned the route to get from the airport to the hostel, so I was very confused by how it worked. The immediate mode I thought to go in was a panic one. After unsuccessfully trying to go up to some people near the metro to see if they could help me, I finally found a girl who spoke English and directed me to a bus (I still have faith in humanity). She was able to give me some information about Brussels such as how there are two official languages and various regions, which is why I saw two signs for every stop and different kinds of tickets. After the bus, I was able to connect to a subway to my hostel. That was just one of the times where I was really uncomfortable and confused during the trip, but eventually I was able to persevere and make it through the situation.
During my first full day in Brussels, I had made a mini schedule which I started to follow, such as the Cathedral, Passage du Nord, and the Grand Place, but ended up going to a free walking tour of the city which I would totally recommend to any new comers. It was great because it guided me through the main sites of Brussels as well as offered some advice about good restaurants and what Brussels is known for. I also appreciated the honesty of my tour guide. She was a native from Brussels, and not only openly explained the dark parts of Belgian history as well as the effects the recent attack on Brussels has had on tourism, but also acknowledged and accepted it. She explained how everyone wanted grow and move past from those events. I finished that day exploring more on my own, such as visiting amazing Belgian chocolate stores and getting free samples, having the infamous Belgian fries, and admiring the light show that happens in the Grand Place at night.
My next day in Beligum, I decided to do an impromptu day trip to Bruges because I had seen the main sites that I wanted to see in Brussels. I heard that Bruges was so beautiful and worth the trip if I had time. The train was very easily accessible, and took me right to the city. Though I had nothing planned for the trip, the place was really magical. The city is very tiny but I loved the architecture, the canals, and energy. I had never been to a city with so many canals running through. It was a little chilly, but I found it so relaxing to have some real hot chocolate and people watch for the day.
Last, I made a final stop in Berlin. The reason I had wanted to visit Berlin was because of its history, and my sister had recommended it as a place to travel solo. I was definitely not let down by Berlin. I was at first really intimidated by the city because it was so much bigger than I had expected, but it really came around to me. The aura of the city was very hip, and I absolutely loved the Christmas markets that they had all around the city. I wish they had some in the US, because it is such a great place to gather with friends and family, and get into the holiday spirit. Similar to Brussels, I first took a free walking tour when I arrived to get some background on the city, and to see the main sites. I was speechless to see some of them, because places that I had only seen in my history textbooks came to life. Some of the sites from the Holocaust and World War II were also a little eerie. Again similar to Brussels, I really liked that the city and the tour guide did not try to hide or be ashamed of what had happened in their history. They were open with both explaining what had happened and having many memorials throughout the city to remember the past. People accept the past, and want to teach visitors and future generations about it, so that history won't repeat itself ever again.
Looking back on my trip now, it was probably one of the best learning experiences that I have had while studying abroad. I was able to learn that I can be independent. I am a very capable person and I am able to manage to travel to a country on my own. I also learned that while this trip was unforgettable, I am a social human being. There were times where I felt a little lonely and wanted to share some cool moments with a friend. However, it was so fun to do whatever I wanted for the first time, and to see what activities and sites I really enjoyed without any outside input. Talk soon!
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<p>Hi! My name is Chirlien and I am a native New Yorker, going to school at the at the University of Rochester. While I am a science student, I also really enjoy writing, photography,and journalism. I am so excited to be studying abroad in Barcelona this fall. Come with me on this journey as I try to learn the ropes of Barcelona's unique culture and people-hopefully I don't get too lost!</p>