Europe used to be a far far away dream – unreachable, uncertain. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I longed for it. Like a hopeless romantic longing for love, I waited every single day.. In reality, I worked hard for it. There were times I almost gave up, but my motivation was strong enough to keep me going. Paulo Coelho kept reminding me, “When you want something, the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” However, the victory is solely dependent on you.
So, the question is, why Europe?
There are so many reasons, and I just thought there was something in this part of the world that I had to see, know, and feel. Simply put, my heart told me to go. Hence, I followed it.
I went to Europe not for a vacation, but an internship. I thought it was the best way to learn and explore because I would immerse myself in a totally new environment and a culture that is undoubtedly different from mine. Well, I always want something more when I travel. I love challenge. I love cultural exchange. I love getting lost in translation (though sometimes, it’s too much haha).
I had 2 months to prepare for my trip. I ACTUALLY DID NOT EXPECT TO GET THAT INTERNSHIP SO SOON! I still remember that moment when I read that acceptance e-mail. I jumped off my seat and started screaming, smiling, and crying like a crazy little girl. I WAS VERY CLOSE TO FULFILLING MY ULTIMATE TRAVEL DREAM!!! Thoughts like “Am I dreaming?!” “Is this true?! “Am I really going to Europe? To EUROPE?!!!” filled my mind. Things went by so fast, and I had no time to waste.
If you come from a third-world country, you must know that getting a visa is not easy. However, because my internship was under a good international organization, I really didn’t have any problems. I got my visa after a few days *reminiscing that moment I opened my passport with a stamped Schengen visa (MY OH MY)*!! I thought I would already accept the fact that I was going to Europe after getting that visa, but I just couldn’t. It was too much for me to take in. Oh, emotions. Believe it or not, I was dreaming about being in Europe almost every night before the day of my departure! That’s how excited I was.
December 3, 2015 – oh what a sweet sweet date! It was time to leave the tropics for a while and experience real winter! Woohoo! Thank you to ukay-ukay (second-hand) shops for sponsoring my clothes. Haha! 😉 Now going back to the main story.. Well, it was my first time to travel solo to a place so far away from home. I was so excited and a bit scared (a good kind of scared). I think it was a right balance. After some hours of waiting, I happily boarded the plane bound for Amsterdam!!! *butterflies butterflies butterflies, lots of butterflies* I was so excited that I had a really hard time sleeping on the plane. However, I was pampered really well by KLM. By really well, I mean, they gave me really good food (the most important thing! haha just kidding.. or not.). *After 17 hours on the plane* We finally landed at Amsterdam airport! I cried tears of inexplicable happiness knowing I was in Europe already. I was very emotional, you see. After 5 hours of taking reality in at the airport, I boarded the plane bound for Prague!!! I was slowly trying to calm myself down… then boom, touchdown Prague! IT. WAS. FREAKING. COLD. Brrrr. I realized 10 degrees Celsius is not real cold. Anything below zero is. Beware, people of the Philippines. If you want don’t want to freeze, don’t underestimate European winter. If you’d have to look twice as big as you are wearing 3-4 layers of clothing, do it.
At the airport, I met my Polish friends! They brought me to Ostrava where I would have my internship. I never heard about this city before, actually. I just applied for the internship without minding where it would be. After doing a little research, I thought it was not a bad city at all. I know there are more waaay better cities in Europe, but I wasn’t too fancy about it. I was going to travel around Europe, anyway (P.S. I didn’t even plan to visit more than 2 countries, but I ended up visiting 7 including ITALIA– my dream come true!! Spontaneity is the key, people!).
We arrived at the dorm where I would be staying for the whole duration of the internship (3 months). I was sooooo tired and sleepy. I thought I would be able to sleep already, but no. I was welcomed with negative stories by the other interns. Hooray! It was my first night in Europe, and it was bad. However, that didn’t stop me to check out the internship for myself. I was surprised because I never heard a single bad internship story under the organization I signed up to. Maybe I was unfortunate or just failed to set the right perspective towards it. I had to be positive even though it was hard. I held on to my belief that better days were coming. 2 weeks had passed and my expectations toward the internship were not met at all. I pushed myself to give my best, but I lost the drive. I knew that the internship had to fail for me to learn. Because of that experience, I learned to set lower, or if possible, NEVER set expectations. And if not because of the new-found friends I met from all over the world, I wouldn’t have stayed longer.
I decided to shorten the internship to 1 month and started looking for another project. I wanted to do something interesting and fruitful before I leave Europe. So, after some time looking for a possibly good opportunity, I stumbled upon Angloville’s website. I applied as an English-speaking volunteer in Poland and unexpectedly got accepted! My experience with Angloville turned out to be very special. It was more than just an English camp. Then, all of a sudden, I knew why my first project did not work out.
Watch out for my post about my Angloville experience!
Now, I’ll share with you the TOUGHEST CHALLENGE I encountered in Europe. My friends and I went to Prague for the weekend before the holidays. We explored the city on a beautiful sunny day. It was an incredibly fun and amazing experience! C’mon, it’s Prague. Need I say more? Anyway, so the day was going really good. Come night time, a very unfortunate thing happened to me – I lost my wallet with all my bank cards, some money, and my IDs including…. *drum roll* my passport. I was too distracted by the beauty around me that I became so careless (lesson learned, mom). That night was terrible. I couldn’t stop crying, but my friends were there to support me no matter what. Kelly Clarkson also reminded me, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” Kidding aside, I was in an UNBELIEVABLY tough situation. However, I did not let that control me. I knew God was in control. I just had to put ALL my trust in Him. If I chose to be sad all the time, it wouldn’t solve the situation. So, I applied and paid for a new passport. That day started out very dull. I didn’t have much energy, but I kept pushing myself to take over my emotions. All of a sudden, things turned around. When my friend and I came back to the train station, the Philippine Embassy called me. They said SOMEONE WAS GOING TO RETURN MY PASSPORT THAT SAME DAY. I couldn’t believe how it happened. All I know is, it was a miracle! From tears of sadness, I cried tears of relief and gratefulness. It was the best Christmas gift.
Better days started coming. I spent a beautiful Christmas and a crazy New Year in Poland (watch out for it in another post!). Things were going really well that I got a bit afraid I would face another misfortune really soon. Haha. Luckily, just minor challenges like running for our lives to catch the tram/train/whatever mode of transportation there is and pushing/pulling/carrying heavy bags. Well, they’re all part of traveling! After spending the holidays in Poland, I had to go back to Ostrava and finish my internship. After the internship, my friends and I traveled to ITALY!!! We spent 1 day in Vienna where I fulfilled my fan girl dreams by visiting Café Sperl! Before Sunrise fans, you know what I mean. Then, off we went to the laid-back city that is Bratislava. From there, we flew to Milan. I WAS THE HAPPIEST KID IN THE WORLD THE MOMENT OUR PLANE LANDED! After Milan, we also visited Venice, Farra Di Soligo, and Rome! (my adventures in Italy) Then, I went to Spain, Germany, and back to Poland for Angloville.
This Europe trip made me experience a lot of firsts, good times, and even not so good ones. I saw snow for the very first time (YAAAAAAAY!), learned how to snowboard (amaaaaazingly fun!), climbed the Dolomites (superb!!!), learned words from different languages (fun!), slept on the floor/the bus (not very fun), lost my wallet (definitely not fun), got scammed (not fun at all), ran for my life (challenging!), got sick (boring), washed my clothes in the tub just to save money (tiring), learned how to cook (interesting!), learned to value time more (oh yes), carried bags I thought were heavier than me (hated it), saw places I thought I could only see in my dreams (magical!), and the list goes on… One thing’s for certain, all these learnings and memories will always be with me wherever I go.
Coming back to the Philippines felt like a wake-up call. I did not want to wake up. I wanted to continue dreaming. However, I was left with no choice. Good things have to come to an end even if it’s against your favor. 40 minutes before boarding, and there I was looking back at each beautiful moment I had in Europe. I knew I was not going home as the same person who left 4 months ago. I’ve learned to live in the moment, to focus on the present.. Traveling changed me. People might not notice the change in me, but that’s okay. I know I can only share stories, but the experiences are mine to keep.
P.S. Europe is not a paradise, but it’s beautiful.