The Left Side of the Road
Originally published on TheMiamiStudent.net
My main concern before leaving the U.S. for Luxembourg was that I wouldn’t be able to make friends. I worried about not having anyone to travel with on the weekends or, even worse, that no one would want to go where I wanted to go, and I’d be forced to go alone.
But as it turned out, making friends was easy. Planning weekend trips around Europe wasn’t difficult either.
The hardest things, for me, have been the small differences between life at home and life abroad.
Like not being able to let my mom know when I got to my host family’s house on the first night in Luxembourg because there was no WiFi. Or asking for lemonade at a restaurant in Greece only to find out that it was carbonated. Doing laundry at the Chateau and realizing that European dryers don’t actually dry anything. Getting used to planning my day around the train schedule. Having to flag down waitresses for the check at restaurants because they assume you’ll sit there for hours.
The most defeating experience I’ve had in Luxembourg took place at the grocery store.
It was the second day of classes and Katie, our student activities coordinator, planned a group trip to the closest Cactus.
Cactus is the Luxembourgish Walmart — a big, bright warehouse divided into familiar sections. But as I stood in the laundry detergent aisle, I’d never felt further from home. None of the labels were in English — something I was entirely unprepared for. How did it never occur to me that simple things would be in different languages? I couldn’t tell if the words I was seeing were French, German or Luxembourgish. I stared for a while, hoping that I would magically figure out which detergent would clean my clothes the best.
Before the semester started, I spent two and a half weeks traveling in the United Kingdom and Ireland with my grandmother. I convinced Nana that the best way to see Ireland was by driving through it. We got all the warnings about how difficult it is to drive in the UK. My aunt begged us to take trains instead, saying that was the way people in Europe traveled.
We rented the car anyway. Which is how I found myself driving on the left side of the road instead of the right, in a giant ‘C’ from Belfast to Dublin.
It isn’t as difficult as everyone says, just different.
When I pulled off the ferry in Belfast, I felt like I was 15 and learning how to drive all over again. The warnings left out the fact that, because the driver’s seat is on the right side and not the left, your entire concept of the car on the road is backwards. And everyone failed to mention that stop signs are a rarity in Ireland.
Living abroad is like driving on the other side of the road. At first, everything seems the same. Then you look around and realize that it’s all just slightly off.
But you learn. You figure out, by trial and error, how to cook yourself chicken nuggets or lasagna in the microwave at the Chateau. Dinners out become more enjoyable because you’re not rushed or asked how your food tastes every 10 minutes. You no longer have to check the train schedule before leaving your house in the morning because you have the times memorized. And, now that you think about it, carbonated lemonade isn’t actually so bad.
I adjusted so well to driving in the UK that, when I arrived in Luxembourg and was driven to my host family’s house, it felt weird to be back on the right side of the road.
Now, after four months in Europe, I wonder what it will be like to go home in a few weeks. Will everything feel normal again? Or have I adjusted so well to life abroad that finally being back in Ohio is what will feel slightly off?