I’ve got myself a blog on all things travel – it is a place where I finally get to reflect on what I’ve been investing all my energy and passion in over the past years. Here it is, if you fancy checking it out: Abroad and Beyond. You can also follow on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram. Let’s see how far this will go…

x Anna

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I often find myself in this peculiar state as if I am caught in between 2 worlds: the one of my home culture, its norms and practices, and the one of my “acquired” habitat, that is, the Western perspective on things and manners. It is peculiar because it feels like I can relate to both of them and because of that I do not fully belong to either. On my recent trip to Russia I was reminded of this rather awkward position once again, when it came to conversations on marriage in general and marital status of my acquaintances’ from all over the world in particular. To sum them up, lots of people who I graduated from high school with are either already married or almost engaged, so as to being single or not committed to a serious relationship (whatever you imply by this) is the exception. Quite a few of these guys already have children, even though they are barely 23 (in some cases, 24) years old! This fact amazes, to say at least, my friends from Europe and North America. Their life choices at the same age are completely different despite numerous similarities in lifestyle; most of them are still in school pursuing BA and MA degrees and do not have apparent plans to settle down any time soon. Instead, they seek to try out many things and gain various experiences, which includes traveling, moving around, perhaps even working abroad for a bit and completing some internships before embarking on something “serious”. I find such an obvious gap between these two paths very intriguing yet not completely surprising, because when it comes to comparative analysis common ground is highly important. My Russian peers and their Western counterparts clearly do not have it, both in the sense of mentality and socio-economic background, although on the surface level many things seem to be deceiving: many of these people share interests and hobbies, they seem to spend  free time doing same things, and so on. What differs so drastically hence leading to completely different outcomes is the context of their lives. 
What I am about to say is, by all means, one big generalization and I would usually avoid doing this, but for the purpose of this post it will do. But please do bear in mind that I am, too, aware of how diverse this co-called “West” is, so my point of reference is a sort of average view, perhaps, even a stereotypical perspective, First I would like to point out some notions that I associate with people of my age in the West. Since it is mainly made up of societies that are usually characterized by sociologists and psychologists as “individualist” (Dutch scholar Geert Hofstede has written remarkable works on the subject) , it does not come as a surprise that these guys are a bit more self-oriented, thus worshipping independence and doing what one’s heart desires combined with taking advantage of available opportunities. Of course, it is necessary to mention that this set of ideas is also backed up by local economies/governments in the form of student loans of all kinds, free stuff/services  for students and youth until a certain age or even “free scholarships” (if you are familiar with the Dutch education system, think of “stufie”) as well as good part-time employment opportunities. That said, parents quite often do not provide much financial support to their children once they turn 18, and once you’ve reached that age it is up to you what to do next and how to do it. End of story? Not yet. This practice comes hand in hand with the idea that while you are young aka wild and free, you should go out there to see the world, experiment and just enjoy yourself. Doesn’t look like marriage fits right in there, does it? 
Now, things in Russia are pretty different. This society is commonly considered as “collectivist”, which stands for a kind of culture where the social institution or group is prioritized higher than the individual self. It is also safe to say that Russian society is conservative and even judgmental if certain things aren’t done “right”. I believe this has a lot to do with our communist past, and our parents who all grew up in that era passed this approach to life on to next generation – us. At the same time, students and young people there cannot really count on any financial aid from the government except scholarships for excellent academic performance , but even this support is often insufficient to live off just it. Besides that but not necessarily because of that, it is often the case that parents financially support their children throughout their student years until graduation. Upon completion of studies, however, one is expected to find a full-time job and settle in order to make a living by him/herself without further income from parents (unless there is some sort of emergency). So, while student life in Russia, Europe, and North America is pretty much the same, graduation marks the point where paths turn in completely different directions. I can hardly imagine a recent grad from my Motherland taking off on a world trip using their savings not even because of the money but because you are supposed to get all serious once out of school. Don’t get me wrong though, it does not mean that everyone basically follows the same order of life events or milestones (although in the grand scheme of things it certainly looks so), but rather that there are certain ideas that the majority agrees upon, finding your significant other early on being one of them. You aren’t quite supposed to joke around at that age. 
So is that it? Frankly speaking, I am not sure. Do my Western friends have fear of commitment or do they just prioritize personal needs? Or do my Russian peers just do what is considered “right”? 

IMG-20140821-WA002 копия  “Don’t panic”, read my cup of latte that I ordered this Monday while catching up with a friend. What an irony of life, I thought, to get this cup and not any other right after a meeting with the secretary of my department who finally outlined my life for the next few months: thesis proposal, first draft, defense, graduation…. As she explained when I would have to hand in what, I was getting really mixed emotions: on one hand, it was a huge relief, because until now it seemed like no one had a clue what was going on, but on the other, I could see a major panic attack coming. 4 months to wrap up the past 5 years of my great, to say at least, university life, to produce a piece of work that would make me proud of everything I have done as a student and a – what do they call people with MA’s these days? – “highly educated individual”. I have not even started writing this masterpiece yet but I am already fully facing all the perks of the infamous thesis anxiety, including the never-ending search for that-one-genious-research-question, piles of readings that only get bigger day by day, and, most importantly, fear of failure.
My typical way of coping with such situations is focusing on something exciting in the observable future just so I have something to look forward to. Not only does it keep me positive and optimistic knowing that there will be some kind of reward afterwards, it provides me with motivation that gets me going throughout the whole process. In this case, I’ve decided to turn to dreams of a graduation trip, regardless of how unrealistic they are at the moment, and so I put up a map of the desirable part of the world above my desk and made a piggy bank – and it has been a while since my last one… And, it turns out, my coping strategy is also good for the Post-Travel Blues Syndrome: according to this article by Lonely Planet, both visualizing your next Big Adventure and saving up way ahead of the time are helpful remedies. I could not agree more – anticipation is definitely half the fun of many experiences. In addition to this, I have discovered that it really does help with getting your priorities straight: whether I am grocery shopping, sorting my agenda or simply daydreaming, I now have to evaluate money- and time-spending against what it could be used towards in relation to the Trip. For me, this is a very refreshing perspective, a reality check if you will, as I am no stranger to indulgence – impulsiveness is both a blessing in disguise and a terrible curse. Yet, even one week in I already see some change in the right direction. We shall see how it goes from now on, but I do have a good feeling about this one – that cup must have come to me for a reason! :D

Tomorrow is an exciting day – I will move to a new house for the 3rd time this year! It will be my 5th residential address in Leiden, and once again I am reminded of all the perks that come with moving, unpacking all my belongings and trying to make the new place a home: it always feels like a fresh start, an opportunity to do same things all over again but much better. It is also refreshing and promising to a certain degree, thinking that this time around I will make the most of my space, time and that with a new address will come a new adventure if you like. Wishful thinking? Who knows. It must have something to do with the fact that I do not really have a home in its traditional sense: lacking a proper base means that I am never quite sure where I will be in a mere year. And yet there is more to it than just some abstract idea of entering a new house and leaving something behind (if only those walls could talk, you know).

It has been about 2 months since I slept in my own bed. Not that I did have a room and avoided it…  As I decided to backpack around South-East Asia, I moved out of my temporary house earlier than originally planned in order to skip paying rent for one month. Luckily, a friend of mine offered to crash on his couch while I am looking for a new place and he’s gone traveling for a few weeks. This friend happened to be my old housemate, so the idea of going back to a familiar house sounded really lovely at the moment. It was not until I came back and entered his room that I realized how difficult it was going to be – yes, I’ve had a roof over my head and yes, I’ve had the entire place for myself. What I did not see coming though is how strange it can be when you’re inhabiting someone’s – not yours – private space. Private is the key word here: I believe that one’s home is sacred as you design it to not only maintain your daily routine and needs, but more importantly to provide you comfort and serve as a hideaway  when need be.

Some of my friends like to joke about what they see as an obsession with keeping my room in order, neat and tidy, at (almost) all times. The explanation for this, besides my very obvious proclivity for obsessions in general, is that while being a very impulsive person, I need to find peace at home that I cannot achieve in my head. Back in the day when I still lived with my parents, my mom would always say that the messier the room the messier the mind. Well, she definitely had a point there! Moving, in a sense, is an extreme way of tiding up. Ironically enough, it also turns out to be the best way to equalize some tendencies for hoarding behaviour in the form of accumulating really unnecessary things with random urges to throw them all out. I am not yet sure what to do about that, but for starters, I will settle in my new beautiful room.

Cheers from Leiden! x

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… I am suffering from post-holiday blues. Well, the use of “holiday” in this case is rather inaccurate. The past months, especially summer, have really just been the epitome of what I consider my life to be in a nutshell: hopping from one place to another, running into people I would never imagine to meet, learning things I would never think of before… I’ve been doing this my whole life, haven’t I? Being on the road is not only a physical state, there is much more to it than just relocating your restless body. It is most certainly a state of mind. Apparently they call it “wanderlust”? Whatever you refer to as, what worries me the most is the thought that at some point, sooner or later, I probably should settle down and embark on this thing commonly pictured as real life, where impulsive decisions to get on the first flight out are not exactly welcome, where thinking ahead of time is as important as being in the now. Trying to get my head around this future, wherever it takes me, is a horrifying thought to say at least.

I am looking back at what has been so far the most amazing year of wandering around the world, and so many flashbacks are running through my head: that weird but kind of fun housewarming party in Berlin, graduation ceremony in Vancouver, crowded streets of the Hongdae neighbourhood in Seoul, breathtaking sunset at the highest rooftop bar in Singapore. All those moments are so vivid, so lively, it almost feels like I could teleport back there for a split second; it was not without conscious effort to register them that I managed to store them in some corners of my mind. Once I was wandering about some place, unfortunately I really cannot recall where it was, and stopped in front of a stall with typical goods for tourists. I had no intentions to buy anything, yet one thing caught my attention – it was a simple dream-catcher, nothing special about it, but I stood there thinking, if you hypothetically can catch your dreams, how do you then catch your memories? How do you preserve them in such a way that they don’t just slip away like fragments of your average day? This might come across as a silly question, and I do agree that it is one, however I have recently realized that no matter how hard I try to capture some special moments, it seems like chasing rainbows. Do these memories get replaced by newer ones or do they transform into something else, like experience/experiential memory or general knowledge? Or maybe there are nevertheless some good strategies to improve emotional memory? If I do find an answer to this question, I will be sure to pass it on. In the meantime, I am really missing Fiji and already dreaming about my next trip.

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Everyone in my social network seems to be relocating. Some folks have already moved to another part of the world, others are about to go elsewhere, and all in all there seems to be some kind of flow of human resources, roughly speaking. It is getting more and more difficult to keep track of my acquaintances’s whereabouts (I am probably not the one to be saying this….), so I’m bound to fully turn to social networking websites if not to stay in touch with some of these people, then to be able to observe what they are up to. Point is, I sort of have to use those platforms on a regular basis in order to stay connected with a great number of pals and gals. That does not mean, of course, that I feel obliged to have my finger on the pulse of facebook newsfeed, but essentially making a habit of it is the way to go.

Now, having the whole subject of social media listed as one of the potential areas for my master’s thesis, I am also trying to make a habit of reading my “friends'” updates in a more than just casual way of learning about their news but also rationalizing and, perhaps, even theorizing what they share. As the phenomenon of having an online identity is still rather new, it is pretty fascinating to observe how everyone is adjusting to social networking websites, acquiring some basics regarding how they work and – this one in my favorite – changing their ways of using them over the time. There are a few things that I have come to in my analysis so far:

  1. Computer-based communication is a whole new stage for individual performance.  Online networking services expose us to many layers of people’s personalities that we were not aware of before. I will go as far as saying that those layers were not disclosed before; at the same time, the phenomenon is still to new to have clear, established manners regarding use of such platforms. For this reason, we usually end up knowing much more about our contacts just because what we learn about them is not quite filtered. Yet.
  2. Social media like fb and twitter peel them – the mentioned above layers – off mercilessly: our generation yet has to come up with some norms of internet communication and possible consequences of sharing this or that information. For example, there are a few guys on my facebook who just love to tell everyone what they are up to, which sometimes pretty personal stuff. It is as if you were okay with exposing others to your dirty laundry, but hey ask me if I wanna be exposed to that. Have you heard of intimacy?
  3. 4 months since the TIME’s article of millennials, and there are still numerous responses and contributions to the discussion on how screwed my generation is. Well, I do agree with Mr. Stein on many things he states there, especially the one that addresses the giant ego. In many ways, instagram and the like are ultimate ego-feeders and to a certain degree contribute to the image of millennials as people who do nothing but crave attention. Will time help us gain better online social-networking skills? I surely hope so.

“Seize the day,” they say. Appreciating the moment, right here and Imageright now, is an idea that cannot go wrong. How can it go wrong when all you need to do is stop for a second, look around and grasp what is going on? Yet nobody really tells you how to do this whole capturing thing, what kind of tools to use and, after all, what is really about the moment that you should appreciate. I have been thinking about this since departure for my semester abroad in Europe; it was right about then when I somewhat began getting my head around the over-used Carpe Diem slogan, and more importantly, seeing something in it.

Putting together a presentation for work on my 18 months of living in the Netherlands, I caught myself going through something that would best be described as deja-vu, but in a much more realistic and kind of rational way. A series of extremely vivid, clear flashbacks filled with real-life sensations like wind going through ears, rain, goose bumps, sounds of traffic, rich smells of coffee. It kept distracting from what I was doing – selecting pictures to illustrate points on my sparkline – for such long moments that I had to close my computer and go for a walk. I knew this task would pose some challenge: missing Europe this much and having to talk about it over and over again is not getting easier. Soon did I realize that was really happening to me is a reliving of those pieces varying in length from mere seconds to entire days that I, at some point, “tattooed” in my memory. Somehow, this ability to almost encode sensations developed on its own: whether strolling down the streets of Amsterdam, people-watching at a café by a canal, or waiting for the train, all those moments where I was fully mentally present in are now short video-like units in my mind. It is a whole new, different level of memory that comes hand-in-hand with awareness, consciousness, and utter reaction to the immediate environment. If you are familiar with Harry Potter, I can compare it to the scene where Dumbledore literally extracted his memory (Google says it is called legilimency) into a bowl, “diving” into which you could get to view past events as if you were physically back there. That being said, my flashbacks did not come completely out of the blue, the pictures usually accompanied by my thinking about how much I wanted to stay there and at least to be able to retrieve it when nostalgic. Take this picture to the right, for instance. The photographer was not me, in fact, I have no clue who it was, but I can immediately go back to that one day I went to Amsterdam to have some quality time off school, homework and upcoming assignments. As I was wandering around neighbourhoods the atmosphere was soaking into my skin – excuse my pretentious figurative language – together with light rain showers. I would stop on the bridge to look at the street lights reflecting on the canals and enjoy the view once again because it never gets old. Taking these mental, rather than digital pictures became a thing. My definition of happiness.

What I wanted to say by doing this spiel is that not all moments are really worth carrying on. At the end of the day we all will probably have so many stories to induldge in, so many images to cherish that our cognitive memory device will be almost worn out. But then we will have those exceptionally bright moments to go back to that feel like we never moved on. Seize them.