Last night I watched Eurovision with my classmates, along with a group of young students who also live in the same student residence. I won’t say too much about Eurovision here but during the course of the long night it became clear to me that it definitely needs a hilarious commentary track…! In any case, it’s a loosely-defined version of Europe and a (curious) window into the different countries represented. Like how France came last — though the song wasn’t that bad — and funnily enough, they were also the only country that gave their scores in their native language rather than English, which has otherwise become the lingua franca of this continent.
At the start of the night in the tv room I met a young Italian guy, who was instantly interested in talking to me when he heard I was Australian. I soon learned that he had had plans to come to Australia on a working holiday visa because his ex-girlfriend was Australian – from Canberra – but a month before he was due to come out they broke up. The visa never got to be used and the plan to live in Canberra never materialised. “Now I have bad feelings about Australia…you’re the first Australian I’ve met since then so it’s up to you to make me like it again!” he said.
These past few weeks I’ve heard a number of stories involving people from abroad coming to Italy (as well as Italians going abroad). The other day I had lunch with an Italian couple who had adopted a 20-year-old Tibetan girl living in exile in Dharamsala, India and who they’d been sponsoring — a long and rather fascinating story in itself I’d like to write about some time — and it struck me how you can have these kind of transnational life-altering experiences without ever moving from home. Of course, I know this from my normal life back home in Sydney, which is full of people from everywhere, but it’s nice to be reminded that one doesn’t always need to travel because sometimes the world comes to you.
Nicola was from Puglia and I asked him how he had met the Australian girl. During his last year of high school, she had come to Italy for an exchange, and he had met her through her host family because one of his best friends was the host son. So much of your life can change through chance connections like that. It also related to a new thought I’d started exploring in Nijmegen with different people, about how human beings are essentially energy, and one consequence of that is that just as you take energy away from people and places, you also bring energy too. So you might have a direct impact on a situation, like this Australian girl did in Puglia, and partly why Nicola was now studying foreign languages. The impact you can have is very obvious when you travel to a developing country or somewhere very different (such as my experience as a tourist in Syria) but it’s not so obvious, I think, when you’re travelling to a country more similar to your own because the scale of your impact is always so much smaller. It’s not about the socio-political then; it’s simply about the social.
I’m becoming more and more aware of my impact on what goes on around me while living overseas. Certainly in an environmental sense, which is why I’ve tried to fly as little as possible since arriving in Europe, but in an emotional sense too. I’ve been making lots of connections and giving a lot of myself (and receiving in return), and what recently brought it home to me was a friendship with a classmate that turned unexpectedly sour — and I realised that I simply didn’t have anymore energy for it. It seems that we were having a negative impact on each other, and it felt wiser to just leave things as they are so the energy balance could be restored. Certainly for me anyway.
It was funny to talk to Nicola, who knew a lot of random things about Australia. I guess whenever you break up with someone you end up with all these esoteric thoughts and memories that rarely see the light of day again until a rare opportunity comes along for you to revisit that dusty drawer in your mind. Talking to him, it was soon clear that he was only around 20, and he found it unbelievable that I was 32-33. It was nice to be told I looked far younger than that (!), but it reinforced my current mode of thinking that time is not only limited, it’s precious too. It’s so great being young and having a limitless sense of time…it’s good to enjoy that feeling while it lasts…!
Many of my friends in their thirties have had babies recently and given my desire to prolong my current phase, I don’t want to squander the opportunities I have to live large. So right now, in between all my studes, I’m brainstorming about places I want to see for the first time and places I want to revisit — like Croatia, Turkey, Lebanon — and I’m in my happy travel-planning mode because these are actually at my doorstep. For a good month after I graduate I’ll be completely free…and get to do all the things I never even knew would be possible when I was 20-years-old and dreamed of seeing the world.