The next day, I woke up in my warm hostel bed with the light softly leaking out from the windows. I was ashamed of my thoughts from the previous night. The impeccable blue sky seemed to mock me for my night terror because, as usual, my fears were unfounded. I left the hostel early, after fixing myself a sandwich to take along with me, and hit the streets once more.
Bratislava, even on a Saturday, seemed to be a quiet city. Scattered tourists strolled, conspicuous with their maps and bad tendency to halt in the middle of the sidewalk. I had plenty of time to kill before the 1pm free walking tour would begin, so I went along the same path that I took the previous day, assessing the difference between the streets at night and the streets on this sun-dappled morning.
As I walked, I recalled the purpose of my trip—to have some alone time in order to figure out my direction. I thought about the chaos that had sent me reeling towards an AIESEC internship and the Czech Republic, and one question that was given to me the other day when I went to a job interview. What do I want for myself over the next three years?
My answer to the interviewer, which was completely genuine, was to learn—to grow and develop. I had been referring to knowledge of web marketing within the IT industry then, but I found my answer to be scalable to many different aspects of my life. I want to grow emotionally, though I don’t even know what that means. Did it mean that I ought to become more independent? My being in the Czech Republic, paying for my own food, rent and travel, was already a step towards that. Become stronger? In spite of my fears, I do not feel weak. I can speak up for myself, and I can roll with the punches. I am also capable of walking away. How abstract the concept of emotional growth is! You can’t truly know you’ve done it unless you view it in hindsight.
As I stood on the bridge that crosses over the Danube River, I thought wryly on how much I changed after my semester abroad. If you had asked me that same question two years ago, and I would have adamantly said travel. But with so many trips under my belt—the answer had begun to ring false. I love travel, but it isn’t enough anymore. I recognize that I am cursed with wanderlust—but the origin of such is even more hopeless than the situation itself.
Maybe I just want to find a place, a person, or a group of people that will make me want to stay.
I joined the free walking tour in the afternoon, after a lunch at a little French café that had a stunning view of the Slovak National Theatre and the leaf-strewn boulevard in which the tour would begin. I enjoyed the two hour rundown of Slovakian history, told in the usual mishmash of stories that these walking tours usually are: “one part fact, two parts legend, and three parts snowball.” When the tour ended, and the temperature began to drop, I wondered where I could go. I didn’t want another night like the previous one, with solitary wandering in Bratislava’s streets.
I am generally a creature of comfort. I like feeling safe, smart, wealthy, and loved. I avoid emotional arguments and fights as if they were thrown grenades, and would be perfectly happy staying in bed with a romance novel and chocolate for a weekend. (Hell, I would be happy doing that for a month.) I hate imposing myself on others. And yet—I love travel. I love the sensuous experience of it all—the food, the walking, the new sights and sounds. I love how far away it is from normalcy, how I am forced to do new things. The adventure. The developing of street smarts. These desires in me often conflict, with the feeling much like when you press your left and right palms against each other in a show of strength.
So I battled my own discomfort at the situation and asked three students from the UK, who had wanted ice cream after the tour, if I could join them. They seemed a bit weirded out at first, but they opened up to me after a while (I even found out one of the girls was an AIESECer!). They were all of Asian descent, but had ended up in London for their degrees in statistics. Around 19 years old, they were lively, fun, and open—and better yet, they had a fondness for banana splits.
I was 19 when I went on Junior Term Abroad—only one year away from graduation—but these kids were in their freshmen year of university. My optimism and generally innocent attitude towards certain things may make me seem young, but I realized then how disjointed and odd I must seem to many people internationally. In some weird time warp professionally and socially—too young to be taken seriously, too old not to be. A little girl with a legitimate bachelor’s degree in Management. How does this fare at an international level?
We went to the UFO tower that overlooks Bratislava, and watched the dusk turn into twilight. One of the girls pointed out that we could see the border of Hungary (or was it Austria?), because of the windmills dotting the horizon, and as the sun sunk low, I shuffled between a painful longing for my loved ones, and a sense of wonder that I could actually relish such a moment with complete strangers that I had met so randomly.
So ended by second day of reflection in Bratislava.
And still, I wander.