Author and insatiable traveler Rudyard Kipling once wrote that, “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” This statement would be entirely irrelevant if it didn’t provide a clever segue into what I actually want to point out: The second condition of understanding a foreign country is to lose yourself in it.
So get lost. Seriously, get lost! No, I’m not suggesting that you navigate away from this blog; I’m suggesting that when you begin your study abroad experience, you get lost. I mean it. When you arrive in a new city, the single most important thing you can do is get completely, utterly, and thoroughly lost. Only by truly losing yourself can you find your way and understand a foreign country.
But if you’ve been blessed with an internal GPS like mine, getting lost is second nature: When I woke up from an impromptu nap on bus #56, somewhere in the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires–and approximately eighteen stops past my apartment–I had no choice but to find my own way home. Relying on the one-two punch of aimless wandering and infallible intuition, I walked a whole two blocks…before swallowing my pride and asking for directions at the nearest gas station. OK, fine, so I couldn’t find my way back on my own…and yeah, maybe I was so absolutely lost that I eventually had to settle for a taxi…and maybe what should have been a fifteen-minute journey took over an hour. But my point is this: I saw a new neighborhood that I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced, I had to communicate in a foreign language to find my way home, and most importantly, I learned that being lost in the deserted streets of the B.A. suburbs in the wee hours of the morning is mildly terrifying. All things considered, it was a learning experience.
If, however, your navigational skills are more advanced than mine, you might need to try to get lost. Here’s a quick and easy recipe for losing yourself and finding your way in a new city:
1. Step out onto the street with the following essential supplies in hand: a wad of cash and your address, written down. (If you’re less extreme, you might take a city map and/or your cell phone)
2. Point in any direction. This direction may be front, back, left, right, or any permutation thereof.
3. Walk in that direction until either (a) the scenery becomes monotonous, (b) you spy something appealing down side street, or (c) your BlackBerry’s 3G signal slows to the point where you can no longer Tweet minute-by-minute travel updates.
4. At this point, pick a new direction.
5. Walk in that direction. Duh.
6. Repeat steps two through five.
7. Stop a stranger and ask where to catch the nearest bus, subway or rickshaw.
8. Board nearest form of transportation and ride until you feel like stopping.
9. Wander back to your dorm or apartment–on foot or public transportation–slowly enough to take in your new surroundings and understand your new home.
10. Congratulations. You’ve overcome the first major obstacle of adjusting to a new city.