As Study abroad in Europe approaches and begins, at the top of most students minds is “I’m going to visit as many countries as I can”. This is not a bad goal -We all must take advantage of each day we have. I especially thought I would go to a lot of countries because I’m staying in a small country in the middle of Europe. However, sometimes the best thing is to take some time to explore your own country. Simply exploring one city in a country, while sometimes a good option, in reality, is hardly enough to get a feel for what a country is really like. To really experience what a country is like you must stay the extra day and take a bus or train into the countryside or a small town. These places, though harder to get to is really what experiencing a country is all about. Tourism gives any place a sort of international feel and often large crowds disrupt your experience of a place. It almost feels commercial. Out of the way, small local destinations may not be one of those must see postcard destinations – yet to me, experiencing true local culture devoid of tourists lends to a more relaxed educational and enjoyable experience. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to take a day or weekend trip just to say Prague and back. Just take some weekends to go off the beaten path. This will save you money and allow you some rest in between weekend after weekend of heading to other countries.
I was going through my time here so far, and though I have been busy every weekend doing something amazing. Yet, very few different countries were involved – even when based in the central and small country of Austria. And my week-long spring break was spent exploring only one country. Don’t get me wrong I want to see every country but there is so much more to see and explore in each country than we think there is – even small countries!
I have been to so many great places in Austria less than an hour from Salzburg including Bad Gastein ski town, the town of Melk, Hohe Tauern National Park, Maria Plain a wonderful convent 20 minutes from town, and Hallstatt just to name a few! One recent example in my travels was during my trip to Poland. I had Thursday-Monday there for a mini Easter break. It would have been traditional to visit Warsaw and Krakow and possibly even Wroclaw during this time. Instead, I planned to spend time in Krakow with only a side trip to the little unknown town of Tarnow. (Granted I had a vested interest in this town because my family is from this town originally, but there were plenty of other local towns full of charm and history to visit as well.) Of course, not a word of English was spoken in this town (unlike Krakow) but I learned so much by walking through town and watching the locals. It was Easter Saturday and everything was closed – my first thought was, what am I going to do? But I found my time there was all about learning what it’s actually like to live in a small town in Poland during the Easter holiday. I watched children play in the square and fill their Easter baskets with food and chocolate. Then I joined what seemed like every family in town in Church for the blessing of Easter baskets. Afterward, everyone enjoys traditional polish snacks followed by a trip to the cemetery to extravagantly decorate the graves of their loved ones.
Yes I missed out on Warsaw, a place certainly worth visiting, but instead I have memories (and more memories than pictures) of how a small-town polish community celebrates a sacred holiday. This to me is irreplaceable and genuine.