Sofa Reflections on Two Months in Europe

Headshot of Thomas Matallana.
Thomas Matallana
July 28, 2023

Unfortunately, my time in Europe has come to an end, and now I’m sitting on a sofa digesting what even happened to me these last two months. It almost seems that it all happened simultaneously a year ago and yesterday, as I’ve stepped from an alien-turned-familiar environment, into a familiar-turned-alien one. When I came back to Kentucky, the first thing my mother and my brother asked me was if the last two months were worth it. Automatically, I of course responded that it was, but then they asked me why. I shocked myself that I wasn’t able to give yet another automatic response - whether it was the sleep deprivation, the stress, or the focus on getting home, I couldn’t tell, and I didn’t want to deal with a mini-existential crisis at that moment so I deflected the question and went on as if nothing.

The next day, I got up, and I asked myself the same question—why was it worth it? Something inside me said that it was, but I couldn’t verbalize or express the reason why. With a trip to visit family in Colombia on the horizon, I still didn’t feel as if the time was right to begin to unpack everything, so I let things lie until I had a few quiet hours over there. It is only now when those quiet hours have arrived that I have begun to allow myself to come to terms with the cost-benefit, and how exactly I can take this experience with me going forwards into the future. For me, I am studying International Relations and Political Science, and in such fields, especially when studying geopolitics as I am, it is supremely important to be able to understand the rest of the world around you and how people see the world outside of your bubble.

However, when I was in Europe, I came out of my bubble to try and understand how Europe is and how they think, only to realize that they too are in their own bubble in the conversations that I had with friends and professors while I was over there. I think that this is a crucial thing to remember, especially in our very “Me-centric” world that many of us have been brought up in. Everyone is also living in their own bubble, and you need to understand what exactly this bubble is and how they think within this bubble in order to be able to understand them. I’m not going to explain what the “European bubble” is, this is not exactly the time or place for that, but take that basic understanding with you.

Secondly, the academia and means of looking at politics and philosophy in Europe and America is very different, and it so follows for the rest of the world. For example, there are things that are discussed and explored in Europe, that quite simply are not very much explored or talked about in American academia or public. For example, I do not believe I have once heard an American politician talk about the WTO, but in Europe they talk about it very frequently, and for them the focus is not on personalities, but ideas.

Thirdly were of a much more personal nature - as I discussed in my first series of blogs, I am a bit of a stress ball and a perfectionist, not exactly the most socially competent, and very work/result-oriented. You simply can’t live like that in the long-term. You will burn bridges, leave negative impressions, or make enemies in the long-term. I had to find this out the hard way, and now things are good, but it was a long road and it took time to get there, even if I personally felt a little uncomfortable being “social.” After all, you are here to socialize and make friends. As I said at the very beginning, you need to break out of the shell a bit. If you make an error, you can either apologize or try and restart with someone else. The key thing is to learn and begin to understand how to maneuver in these social environments if you are as socially inexperienced as I am. At the very worst, you find fellow perfectionist stress balls who are very focused on work, but that’s hard and it’s a very constrained group of people… and to be honest, hanging out with fellow stress balls isn’t that fun. I know that I dampened the mood at several gatherings with my own failings and focus on work, when the actual mood was to enjoy themselves and leave work and studies to the side for a moment to let the stress flow freely with a party and hang-outs. This doesn’t mean that those people are not focused on work or don’t appreciate it as much as you do, merely that they’re willing to not let it dominate their lives as it did for me.

I understand that many of these observations are nothing necessarily unique to Europe, but I’m not here to necessarily discuss Europe itself, but the more general abroad experience both for myself and others who hope to learn. I know for a fact that many people don’t read these unless they want to learn from their peers, so why would I discuss things that are hyper-specific? If my goal is to help others, it’s better to speak about more general observations and what I learned both for my career and my own personal development. With those final thoughts, I leave you, my friends, readers, and fellow students. Enjoy your triumphant returns to America, everyone! I know I will with my new understanding.

Headshot of Thomas Matallana.

Thomas Matallana

Buenas! My name is Thomas, and I am majoring in PoliSci & International Affairs. Very much excited to start learning about the EU in Freiburg this summer, as well as go beyond the Western Hemisphere for the first time. A good cook, and geopol nerd!

2023 Summer 1
Home University:
Transylvania University
Louisville, KY
Political Science
International Affairs
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