An international story.

English Below

Voor de week van de Internationale student nam mijn hogeschool inzendingen in voor verhalen over reiservaringen. De drie beste inzendingen zouden gepubliceerd worden in ‘De week van de internationale student’, en zouden een THUAS hoodie ontvangen. Hieronder mijn inzending, in het Engels.

For the week of the international student, my college took submissions for stories related to travel experiences. The three winning submissions would be published in ‘The week of the international student’ and would receive a THUAS hoodie. Below is my submission.

For all my life I’ve lived in The Hague. My entire worldview consists of nothing else but a modern city lifestyle. And, though I wished my family and I travelled more, for a multitude of reasons we didn’t go beyond the borders of Germany, France or Belgium.

At least, until an opportunity from my previous school arose. As it was my final year there, all classes for that year were eligible on voting for a destination for a week-long journey. The choice eventually fell on Albania. That apparently, was a real country.

Having just barely gone beyond the borders of the Benelux as I mentioned earlier, jumping into an aeroplane for the first time in my life without family, all alone with a few of my friends sounded like an awful idea to everyone in my family, myself included. I was shocked at the thought of going to a country where English wasn’t a widely adopted language. However, I’ve previously owned emotions of feeling held back and especially because this would be the last trip I would ever make with this school, class and some friends, I decided that I had nothing to lose.

Flying wasn’t as scary as I imagined it would’ve been. I brought my noise-cancelling headphones, and I downloaded some shows on Netflix while I was still at the airport. I walked around some shops, bought food and entered my plane. I was seated between two random people, but my friends were two rows behind me. Because we’re in the Netherlands, of course, it was rainy, and the take-off was rather bumpy. I can’t justify why, but I had a feeling the pilot was struggling with getting in the air. I assumed that’s probably just the rough weather and if I were going to die in a plane crash, worrying about it would probably be a waste of my time anyways. I laid down my phone against the seat in front of me, and despite careful yet insistent instruction of the flight attendants, I refused to cease all wireless activity, enabled my headphones and started watching a Dutch film called ‘De Marathon’. A must-watch, by the way. Through the window, I was able to catch a glimpse of the sun slowly going down.

A few hours later, I landed in Albania. I suffered from culture shock, not even five steps into the country. The airport was roughly as large as a medium-sized aircraft hanger, and the only shop in there was closed. The massage-chairs had a sign fastened to them that read: “Out of order, sorry for the inconvenience”. It was quite dark after we landed, and after everyone collected their luggage, we entered an old coach and drove off towards our hostel.

Our hostel was a decently modern building with large rooms with multiple beds. With me in the accommodation were good friends of mine, so sleeping wasn’t going to be an issue. We were even blessed with the gracious gift of an airconditioning unit, and attached to our room was a balcony for late-night star observing. 

So started our seven-day journey in a country unbeknownst to any of us. Thankfully, we had a fantastic tour guide leading us through all our adventures. And of all 154.087 steps I took, every single one of them was worth the pain and blisters on my feet. Climbing actual mountains hours away from civilization felt nearly surreal, and even for the extreme entomophobe that I was, I didn’t care for the bazillion bugs and critters on my legs that jumped over from tall grass and leaf piles.

The surreal experience of climbing mountains not many people go to takes the idiom of feeling on top of the world to a literal level. And sailing and swimming through lakes more transparent and blue than the water I drink at home, was a feeling I can only describe with words that don’t exist yet, as the words in the English language honestly don’t do it justice.

For a trip I initially didn’t even intend to go on, I was so delighted I did. Not only was it a trip that helped me overcome specific fears and incredibly irrational phobias, but it sparked a desire in me to explore more of this fantastic planet. Something I didn’t have before going, and I believe I otherwise never would have. If you’ve ever doubted to visit a country, whether that’s because you’re afraid of flying or being in a completely different environment, go. Just. Go. Nobody’s promised you your legs will still work tomorrow.

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