By: Megan Moore
Assistant Women’s Lacrosse Coach
I’ve had the luxury of traveling throughout Europe for the past 10 days. I could give a play-by-play of the trip but I’ve already spent an embarrassing amount of time captioning my European album on Facebook and have realized, as most people who have been abroad know, words can’t quite do the experiences justice. I was fortunate enough to be included in my parents’ plans to visit my younger sister who is studying in Geneva, Switzerland for a fall semester in college. I questioned my adulthood and independence more than a few times riding in the backseat of our rental car, feeling incredibly lucky if not a tad bit guilty that I had landed myself a free trip to Europe. Not many self-sufficient 24 year-olds can say that, and having spent time studying in Italy in college, I realized just how much more I valued the opportunity this go-around. I owe that realization to the unusual amount of time we spent as a family in close quarters. It’s been awhile since Mom, Dad, Kaitlyn and I have all lived under the same roof. Spending 10 days in the same trains, planes, hotel rooms and one very homey station-wagon led me to see the whole experience from their different perspectives.
My sister has been living in Europe for almost three months. She lives with a terrific older couple in their suburban home that they share with their son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren. The house is always buzzing with something going on, in French of course, and is complete with a big fluffy dog named Elliot and a cat who thinks he’s big and fluffy named Nintendo. Her home-stay mom and dad are wonderful cooks and serve delicious cheese, wine and chocolate with dinner; the meal we had at their house was by far the best of the trip. She lives within minutes of beautiful Swiss country-side and the majestic Alps are in her backyard. She’s heard lectures from prominent NGO leaders, has access to international resources including the U.N. library and has spent most of her weekends exploring the continent.
Despite all of this, she has become disillusioned. She misses her friends, she misses American eating habits (terrible as they may be), she misses American prices (Switzerland is unbelievably expensive), she probably misses her mom, dad and sister when we’re not cramping her style abroad with her and she misses English. She is grateful for her time there and puts on a happy face about it, but my instinct upon first hearing her discontent was to jump all over her. “So what if you have to spend every lunch time wandering the streets eating nothing but bread and Nutella – you’re in Europe!” Meanwhile I was spouting off the little French I knew to her home-stay family, much to her embarrassment, and gleefully entertaining holing up in a small cottage somewhere in the foothills, writing stories and living off of a garden and a cow for the rest of my life. Ok, maybe just for a few years, but I tried very hard to explain to her that too soon it would all be over and she would find herself daydreaming about watching the boats sailing on Lake Geneva and that her friends, family and the Dollar Menu would always be waiting for her in America. But of course, I “just didn’t understand.”
And if I didn’t understand, then my parents who’ve had less travel experience than their two daughters half their age, were completely unable to empathize. Their approach at handling European train-stations, driving, tipping and basic communication, while anxiety-inducing and borderline mortifying for my sister, became more and more endearing to me as the trip went on. At first I was pleading with my Dad to at least try to say a few words in German or French and persuading him to please not call the front desk and ask for “warsh rags” (in Eastern Shore of Maryland speak those are wash cloths) since they probably wouldn’t know what those were. I realize that English is an international language but I pushed him out of respect as visitors and because I remember vividly the day an Italian Auto-Grille worker became furious with one of my fellow classmates for assuming she would understand his English order. My pleas were to not much avail, and the only foreign words he recited were the German “dunkel” only after we convinced him that this was the way to order dark beer and a very surprising French phrase he remembered from high school and later found out means the equivalent of an English curse word. However many groans my parents’ small blunders incurred from my sister though, I began to see them as a sign of how fortunate I was to even be there in the first place. Hearing my mom recall that she would not have believed she’d be approaching her 50th birthday and listening to the Vienna Boys Choir or sitting in a beer garden in Munich put a lot into perspective. Here was my sister, who in plain terms had started to take her time abroad for granted at 20, and my mom and dad thirty years older and just happy to have made it to Europe.
I write this not to paint little sis as unappreciative and I actually find her outlook to be not unlike my own was when I was her age. Yes, I realize how akin that statement is to something that would come out of my grandmother’s mouth (and those kids whipping in and out of the parking deck really need to slow down!). Aphorisms aside, I remember missing the comforts of America just as much and even for only 10 days found myself longing for the seemingly easy task of ordering a glass of water or a convenient place to go for a run. My older and wiser self though understands that going without what were once necessities not only teaches you the values of other cultures but is a small price to pay for an opportunity you might never get again. As for the embarrassment caused her by her very American family, it was as if after each major feat we accomplished my sister relaxed a little bit more. We navigated train stations and identified track changes, perfected the art of riding Vienna’s underground transit and mastered the Autobahn all without any (major) mishaps. There was that small incident with the Austrian Border Police that threw a bit of a kink in the works, but really that could’ve happened to anyone…
We passed the big test of spending the evening with her home-stay family with flying colors and, once she saw that our request for the wrong aperitif or cheese-plate wasn’t going to cause World War III, had a wonderful time.
The trip itself was unbelievable but it is almost more enjoyable to reminisce about. We saw some awesome places, ate some delicious food, drank some great beer and wine and if nothing else, got to know each other a little better and survived some serious family bonding in foreign countries.