A European exploration is the cool thing to do during summers at UNC. Did you even graduate from Carolina if you didn’t do a European exploration during your four years? At this point they should make “soul searching in Europe” a gen Ed requirement. It has become incredibly common for Carolina students to prance off to Europe for a few weeks- or if you’re really daring- a few months. In my observations, this is not only for the privileged. With fellowships, a part time job, or loans, it feels like everyone is finding a way to get their European fix. Given that “everyone is doing it,” I wanted to write about a few trends I have noticed through my fellow travellers.
No one has been dumb enough to try and come back with a new accent yet. However, many come back with alter egos, new personal values, and a stream of lofty proclamations about the meaning of life. All of this typically adds up to having an entirely new personality for a month or two after the trip. Then you get back into your routine, forget the mantra you collected while roaming the streets of Florence with pizza in your left hand and a cannoli in your right. The next thing you know, you’re back to being you.
Back to being you can be frustrating though. Going from the glories of Europe to La Rez on Saturday night is certainly a buzzkill. What many do at this point is turn to ink to legitimize their life changing European experience. If you get a tattoo, no one can question the fact that you were permanently changed and enlightened by your abroad experience, right? The shoulder blade and under the wrist are two common locations for a small blotch of ink to tell the world that you are a daring free spirit.
You can fake a lot of things, but being cultured is not one of them. A little tattoo symbolizing your travels is almost the new symbol of education and acceptance. It screams “I’ve been places and I’m a badass for getting a tattoo. Respect me.” Some of us, in turn, view these tattoos as symbols of the person’s lack of self-understanding. Your month of traveling should not be the beacon you plaster onto your skin for the rest of your life. What about the other 300 months you have lived? It inherently feels like the person is trying to prove something about him/herself to the outside world. But whatever floats your boat-right?
I want to preface my next statements with the fact that I think travelling is an amazing and unmatched experience. Spend all of your money on experiences; not things. Seriously (unless there are holes in your shirts or your socks stink- buy something new). But I certainly find it amusing that if you click through many of your friends’ European pictures- they all seem to be with the same backdrops, in the same countries, doing the same poses.
Despite all that Europe has to add to us intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, I have found many to be guilty of merely using Europe as set for their 3 week long photo shoot. I found this to be the case on my own European adventure, and not by choice but by association. The group I was travelling with had a borderline compulsive obsession with photo documenting their every single move. Take two steps one direction and we need to snap a different pose in front of the ocean that literally surrounded us. The backdrop was not going to be different every five steps… but you better bet we have a photo of practically every breath we took in each country.
Then the uploads in the hundreds are thrown up on Facebook, to which I am also guilty of. No one but your parents actually goes through all of these photos, but the 4 that pop up in everyone’s news feeds are enough to scream that you were looking cute in Europe. No one looks at your photos because there are millions of them, and they are literally all of you or the one or two people you travelled with. So when our timelines have been spanned by everyone’s 400 photo collection. They start to blend in.
For those of you who have not gone on your European adventure yet- I highly recommend it. Also something to keep in mind is that Southeast Asia is becoming the new trend. It’s cheap and beautiful. Regardless of where you decide to go- do not forget the formula! Travel around (preferably on mom and dad’s credit card), take 2 billion photographs; become a new person; and then get a tattoo once you’re forgetting about the new person you became.