Independent Research in Europe
Is there anything you wish you would have known before leaving?
Since I was traveling every 3 days to a different city/country, I thought buying the EuRail pass would be the easiest and cheapest way to travel around the EU. Boy, was I wrong. I spent an exorbitant amount of money on the EuRail pass, and I can say that I used it maybe 10 times during the whole summer.
I highly underestimated how many people I would meet during this trip, and how much my plans would change during the trip. I ended up traveling by bus, hitchhiking, taking boats and ferries, or simply biking to other places.
I wish I had known that all of my planning would go out the window once I arrived.
What is the best day you had on your trip?
The best day of my trip happened completely by chance. I was traveling around Sicily, and I met this wonderful older woman at a restaurant while I was having breakfast. Her English was broken and my Italian was almost non existent, but somehow we managed to communicate.
When I entered the topic of the national identity and what it meant to her to be a part of the EU, she gave me the most insightful answer I had gotten so far. We spoke for hours about Italian culture and how hard it was for her to see herself as an European citizen first when her whole life was directly intertwined with Italian tradition. After our talk, she invited me to her house for lunch. When I arrived, to my surprise, both her son and her mother were at the house waiting for me. She told them of my research and soon I was able to interview her mother and son as well.
In one day, I interviewed the same family, three different generations, three completely different points of view regarding cultural identity and the European Union. At the end of that day I realized for the first time just how complex this issue is.
How have you changed after this experience?
Spending almost 10 weeks with no place to call “home” really makes a big impact on how you see life. I was born in Brazil, lived in London and am currently studying in America. Hence, being away from “home” is not a foreign concept to me. However, this was a whole other monster.
Living from a backpack, moving every three days, and being constantly on a strict budget completely changed the way I see the world. I was so humbled by the amount of people who offered me shelter, food, and were willing to speak with me even though I had little to give in exchange. I learned that a great meal has little to do with the taste of the food, as long as you are in good company. I learned that your 9-5pm job says nothing about your level of education and your ability to be insightful. I learned that language barrier is not a huge challenge as long as both parties want to communicate (translation apps were my saving grace).
I have been back for a couple of weeks now, but I still have the feeling that this experience has changed me in many more ways that I am currently able to recognize. I went to Europe to study the effects that the European Union have on the cultural identity of citizens of different countries. I ended up making lifelong friendships and I will be forever grateful to SSP for giving me this invaluable opportunity.