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Monthly Archives: June 2012

I arrived in Switzerland just over a week ago. It has been a lovely change from the UK, with mostly beautiful weather, although thunder clouds are threatening now. The focus has mostly been on working, and the communications team has been busy creating our plan for the summer, crafting social media strategy, learning to draft press releases, and proofreading conference material.

Thankfully, the house has slowly started to fill up, as interns, conference teams, and department heads have begun to arrive. One of my fellow Comms Assistants and myself took advantage of a day off last Sunday and hiked down to Montreux, a 5-mile trek straight down the mountain that I had never experienced before, and brought us within feet of grazing bulls, cows, and goats.

It doesn’t do justice, but check out those horns!

It was a stunning hike, although our legs were shaking and we were more than ready for a dip in Lake Geneva by the time we reached Montreux.

A few nights ago, we had our first “variety evening,” and I experienced a genuine Swiss yodel for the first time.

As always, the view of Lake Geneva from Caux is absolutely incredible. Last night, we watched the sunset (which doesn’t begin until 8.30 or 9 p,) from a balcony over wine and chocolate, and I cannot remember a more beautiful experience.

Bizarrely, I realized that yesterday marked 20 days out of the US, meaning that I will return to California in just under two months’ time. Although two months is still a long time, this trip seemed immense when I embarked, and I already feel that my time here is speeding by. Regardless, I am happy to see friends and coworkers from summers past, and am thoroughly enjoying hiking in the Alps and swimming in the lake.

What makes a trip successful? Is it the fantastic sights seen, the friends made, the food consumed?  Or is it the mountains climbed, the challenges conquered, the definition of oneself in the midst of the unknown?

Could living in a place like this ever bore you?

I ask these questions not because I have an answer, but because I have experienced a certain disappointment in my travels this time around, which I mentioned earlier, and which still baffles me. My time in London and Edinburgh was phenomenal, and Switzerland is as lovely as ever, so why am I disappointed?

My first international experience was the absolute opposite; despite my horrific journey, I experienced highs higher than I knew existed. I felt like I was upside down half the time, and was baffled by everything around me, from the different languages, accents, and food, to the method of hand-drying. Despite the fact that I was utterly solo, had not a friend to my name on the continent, I never felt alone, fell tragically in love, and made friends in every hostel and city I visited. Now, now that I know all of those I am working with and am only staying with friends, I feel more isolated than ever. Is this simply the result of 20/20 hindsight? Am I seeing the perfections of my first trip, when at the time I felt the sweat of the Milan heat and the blisters from lugging my bag from hostel to hostel? Or, do I simply feel complacent, and disappointed in myself that I am so within my comfort zone?

This brings me to one of my favorite theories in economics: the idea of diminishing marginal returns. Basically, once supply and demand meet, demand falls off. This is because you get fewer returns per extra unit consumed once you pass a certain threshold (on a graph, that point where price demanded meets quantity demanded). This makes sense; while eating, for instance, the pleasure you get per bite decreases dramatically once you are already satisfied. But, does this theory apply to traveling? Do we get bored once we have already seen something of the world? Does the wonder ever cease?

I think that, perhaps, it does, though I am not saying that you should only ever travel once and then become housebound. Yes, the Alps are just as beautiful as they were my first time here, but I come with the expectation of being awed, because I have been. My first time here, I had no expectations, and so was struck as by a tidal wave with the beauty surrounding me. If I come with those expectations, the impact will, naturally, be less.

A competing theory comes from psychology: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance essentially says that we look back on something, and if the outcome doesn’t match our expectations, we feel discomfort- embarrassment, shame, regret—and therefore change the way we feel about it, or our expectations, in order to reduce those feelings. One example from a psych class I took said that students were more likely to say that they liked a class after they had enrolled in it and began it than beforehand, because they don’t like the idea that they are wasting their precious time or that they guessed wrong when registering for the course. Essentially, pride.

So, my question is this—was my first trip really the incredible experience that I remembered it being, (was I perhaps suffering from cognitive dissonance that attempted to make up for my horrific voyage?) or do we experience diminishing marginal returns while traveling? Truthfully, I would really hate it if I needed a bigger and bigger adrenaline rush every time I went somewhere new. I want to experience awe and wonder the same way I did that first time that I crossed the Atlantic, but if I need to experience something comparatively incredible, I’m going to have to find Mt. Olympus by the time I’m 30.

My answer to both questions is, yes, but not all is lost. I think that I do tend to remember the rosy memories, and to forget the exhaustion that I felt after spending three nights in an airport, and that I made friends because I was desperate and miserable, not because I was surrounded by beautiful, amazing people. I made the experience that I wanted to have. Because of this, I expect every experience to be incredible, and forget the hard work that I put into it to make it incredible.

Thus, I have vowed that I will make this trip just as incredible as that first one. I will push my comfort zones, and I will make new friends, and I will find that adrenaline rush, hopefully all without missing three flights in a row and losing all my luggage. The experience was of my own creation two summers ago, and it will be of my own creation this year, as well.

One-liners are direct quotes of funny things that my friends and colleagues have said, a practice that I adopted from a blog I write with a friend. I’ve decided to continue the practice on my journey due to the hilarity that culture clash adds to most interactions. 

 

Having perfect hair isn’t very Elizabethan.

 

The Dutch are playing like they’re wearing clogs!

 

DFMOs.
-What?
Dance Floor Make-Outs, obviously!

 

They probably held you in custody because you’re ginger. They’re quite racist about gingers in Britain.

 

The problem with Paris is that they don’t understand margaritas.

 

You should go and hang out in the toilet. I think you’ll love it.

A tribute to the bard

Shakespeare can take credit for a lot: some 40 plays, I don’t know how many sonnets, the creation of hundreds of words and just as many phrases of English vernacular, and one incredible weekend in the UK. It started on Saturday, when we went to see Henry V at the Globe Theatre, which was built near, and closely resembling the original, old Globe Theatre. Henry and his cast were incredible. Our tickets were in the standing section, and experiencing Shakespeare as closely as the 16th-century English did was absolutely incredible.

We dined on “traditional” bratwurst and wine, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, though our feet were a little sore after walking all day in London and then standing for the duration of the three-hour play. Although standing room had never exactly appealed to me, the connection we felt with the cast and the stage was incredible, and unlike any other theatrical experience.

In keeping with the theme, we watched Shakespeare in Love on Sunday to mentally prepare for our impending and final trip, to Stratford-Upon-Avon. In case you were wondering, we were pretty excited.

Our day in Stratford was beautiful and sunny. We began with a tour of his house, and walking on the original floors where Shakespeare himself walked and lived and cooked and wrote was incredible. The tour itself was a bit of a letdown, as the museum was not particularly informative and we were surrounded by francophone tourist groups. However, the actor performing Shakespeare in the garden made up for it, and overall, we had a lovely time. 

After touring Shakespeare’s house, we visited his grave, and spent the rest of the day walking along the river Avon, making friends with butterflies at the Butterfly Farm, drinking tea and eating cake, and visiting the various houses and cottages associated with Shakespeare in Stratford.

Although the tour didn’t capture it’s full potential, our day in Stratford was beautiful. The town itself is relatively untouched, and we both came away inspired to experience more Shakespeare.

I grew up obsessed with Harry Potter. I think there are few series that have so inspired and touched readers across the world. Although I knew the story was fictional, there was a tiny (huge) part of me that hoped it was reality. The seventh and final book came out when I was 18 and about to leave for college, which added a very dramatic significance to it all.

Beyond contributing to my already overactive imagination, JK Rowling inspired a true love of reading, and I have always been thankful to her for that. After I found Harry Potter, my appetite for instant transportation became voracious. When I was in Edinburgh a few weeks ago, I was drawn to the Elephant House, the cafe where JK Rowling conceived of Harry.

The creative energy inside the cafe is incredible. It has a fantastic view of Edinburgh castle, and overlooks a graveyard full of names one finds within the novels, as well as the school that supposedly inspired Hogwarts, which more closely resembles a castle than any elementary school I have ever seen.

Scrymgeour, the Minister of Magic in the 6th and 7th books

Moodie, one of the bravest and more feared auror’s in the series.

McGonagall, who was apparently a really awful poet, but an amazing Transfiguration Professor and head of Gryffindor House.

And finally… Tom Riddle, the villain of the series.

The bathrooms of the Elephant House are a tribute to JK Rowling’s far-reaching influence, as hundreds of her fans have written her messages of thanks and admiration on every surface imaginable.

Edinburgh itself is a city full of magic and intrigue, and discovering the names and places that inspired one of my favorite authors was almost as incredible as a trip to Hogwarts itself.