Unprepared for the unexpected

This week's Wednesday word from American student in Luxembourg, Stephanie Benson

Miami University, château grounds in Differdange
Miami University, château grounds in Differdange
Photo: Claude Piscitelli

By Stephanie Benson

Since I arrived in Luxembourg in early January, nothing has gone as expected. I mean this in all the best ways possible, though! The Dean of our university here in Differdange told us that getting lost is exploring, and I could not agree more.

Lost—unable to find one’s way, unable to be found, confused or insecure. My luggage was lost, we have been lost in Europe, I am lost without my new best friends. These unexpected experiences while living in an unfamiliar country can bring out the best in people and the worst. In my mind, they all bring about a lesson to be learned for the better. My genuine enjoyment of being lost was completely unexpected!

I stood at baggage claim, fresh off my eight-hour flight full of on demand movies and music, my eyes searching in circles for my unsightly olive green suitcase. One by one, luggage was plucked off the belt, until four unclaimed bags were left riding the carousel. Mine was missing. This form of lost I am comfortable with; I remained mellow. It was not until the next morning that I realized the true purpose of a carry-on bag: to hold extra necessary items in case one’s luggage becomes lost. Throughout my life of traveling, I have always assumed it to be a place for things to occupy me on the plane and things that would not fit in my suitcase. Lesson learned. I borrowed pajamas, clothes, and toiletries from my roommate until three days after we arrived. Fellow travelers: pack your carry-ons properly!

Though culture shock has not fazed me, I’m sure I will talk about this later, unexpected aspects of European culture still surround me. My roommate and I were not entirely sure how we would react to our host family’s lifestyle. Luckily, they are kind and we are adaptable.

Family dynamics differ, we realized after spending an afternoon lunch with our host mom’s parents, their son, and his girlfriend. I have noticed that the families in Luxembourg, keep to themselves and prefer for their homes to be private and intimate. This is, I assume, the general atmosphere in European countries. Lunch is the most significant meal of the day; a smaller dinner is typically served later in the evening.

We have been picking up on the most random of words in Luxembourgish, such as the word for carpet. “Teppech!” They say this to the family dog when they want him to sit on his designated carpet square. Showering should not be done before 7:30 in the morning or after 10:30 in the evening, and it should not exceed ten minutes. Also, I was definitely not aware that the showers here would be so ridiculously compact!

Being here for a month now, naturally, we have traveled every weekend in order to see the wonders of this busy continent. What a life we have! Getting from place to place, however, leads us right into plenty of unforeseen predicaments. Starting off simple, we figured out the Luxembourg train system.

Complications did not arise until we attempted to find our way around Lux City. My host home is in Niederkorn, approximately a ten-minute walk to our school, the château, so I haven’t had much experience navigating my way around the city streets. The next step was traveling internationally. At first, with the resources we have on the Internet and at the château, booking hostel rooms and buying conveniently timed train tickets seemed like a breeze. It’s not.

It actually requires heaps more thought and attention than I had anticipated. And I suppose I didn’t realize that it would be so difficult to keep track of stops and connections on the train rides. I will admit that we exited on the wrong stop while on our way to Köln and got lost while walking around various other towns. Yet, every time we’re lost, I think of how great it feels to be here. If we take any experience here for granted, then we are not truly exploring. My thirst for discovery is something that I entirely expected, and I am not sacrificing my sense of adventure.

Food is the aspect that has shocked me the most. At home, I am an extremely picky eater. It’s not that I am opposed to trying new things; it’s that I have an issue with the textures of foods. So I came to Europe open-minded, yet assuming that I would not find different foods that I really enjoy. A pleasant surprise was in store for me, however, because I realized how much I love the meals here! Lunch is served at the château every Monday through Thursday. We have eaten schnitzel, Queen’s Pie, a salmon quiche, tortellini, wine sausage, pork stew, and so many other means. Every time, I find myself voicing to my friends how delicious the food is. Then, I eat various foods while traveling, as well. Unfortunately, eating abroad adds up quickly; I guess that was to be expected. Even though things other than food are also expensive, I’m not letting that hold me back from the experience I yearn to have.

There is no way to predict what will happen, especially while studying abroad. My unpreparedness for the unexpected has heightened my experience thus far because it forces me to explore every nook and cranny of where I live and visit. My positive outlook on life is becoming even more optimistic. For those of you traveling or planning to travel, be as open-minded as possible and utilize your time abroad in the best ways possible.

Even though it’s not always easy financially, try new experiences! Eat the local food; talk to the citizens; go get lost in another country! Be daring! As my friends and I say, would you rather go for the story or no story?