Getting the most out of Europe
To study abroad is a difficult decision. If you are considering this option solely to procure a parent subsidy while you do the Europe thing, let me save you the trip. Give me five minutes, I'll give you the continent. First off, everything is beautiful. Everything is expensive and everything is old. As for European cities, they're all born from the same general pattern. Each city has a river running through it. It usually bisects the town, but it doesn't have to. In every town, you'll have a church — a really big, really old, really impressive church. Go see it. It's free. If there are several, go to the one that's set on a major square. It's the one closest to Tourist Information; that's the red lower case "i" on the smudged crease of your disproportionate, useless, impossible to fold, pocket-size map.
After the church, go to the tall thing. Every city has one. Lots of times, you'll luck out. The tall thing will be the church, like in Zurich. Bonus. Other times, it's just a tower — like in Bologna. The tall thing in town isn't free, but you can count on it not having an elevator. Which calls to mind another hazardous by-product of the European adventure: unintended exercise.
Now, a lot of times, once you get on top of the tall thing, you'll notice an even taller thing. Don't panic. They'll let you climb that one too, usually for a proportionately steeper fare. First, take a picture of it. Then, climb the taller thing and take a picture of the original edifice. Your friends will think you did it on purpose. I think it's called "perspective".
If you go to Europe, hostels are key. They're small and cheap, but also dirty. Hostels are like a sketchy, smelly microcosm of Freshman O. That is, an interminable sequence of contrived, perfunctory palaver in which neither person cares about the answer. Freshman year, it was an incessant drone of "What's your major? Where are you from?"
Over there, there's a slight variation. You see, every hostel has the same kid — one that is just a little too eager to make friends. He's usually a recent college grad, clean-cut trying to look like he's not, and he always smiles.
He is in every hostel in every town. Without fail, as I walk in the door, trying to discern the broken English of the checkout person, he crashes in with an overly friendly handshake. "Hi, I'm ______, but all my friends call me Ace." First, I have that disease where the contact of another person's palm against mine momentarily impairs my hearing and memory. I have never, not once in 20 years, caught the name of a person as they introduce themselves. Second, the nickname is self-assigned. No friend would take the time to christen him "Ace" or "Stroker" because he has no friends. Regardless of your interest, out comes his hometown and alma mater. The town is one he lives an hour from and has visited once. The college is one you're vaguely familiar with. You probably glanced at the brochure on the trip from the mailbox to the garbage, not that you could ever name the state it's in. All the same, you give the trademarked nod as he says it.
Here, I mindlessly reciprocate with my "Big 2". Both are tags. Now, desk-leach will mention every person he has ever encountered with any association to my hometown or college. I will never understand this game. After I shoot down several names, he comes across one I think I might recognize from an English or history class.
"You know Jim O'Connell?"
"Hell yeah, I know Jim O'Connell. We had history together."
"Small world, isn't it."
"Well. I saw him really drunk one time."
"How `bout that. Me too. Wow."
"Big drinker, that Jim."
"Yup. Big drinker."
"Yeah, well …"
Here, both parties will generally exaggerate their closeness to and affinity for Jim O'Connell. Regardless, I don't like this guy any more or less because we know the same person. Now, the cross-examination.
"You go to Hillman, right?"
"You bet. The mauve and blue. The Harvard of southwestern Kentucky. The Fightin' Incestuous Bulldogs. Go Dogs! Why?"
"Yeah. Well, uh, a guy I used to hang around with back in the neighborhood got a full ride to play football there. I think he was your year, and it's a pretty small school, you ever run into a um, uh, Mike Green?" This is where it gets fun. You see, "cool guy" doesn't want to come off like he doesn't know my popular and imaginary friend.
So, he'll repeat the name twice slowly, rubbing his chin between utterances. "Mike Green … M-i-k-e G-r-e-e-n. You know, I think I do know him." Then he makes like a psychic friend and gets as vague as possible. "Yeah. Mike Green. Football player, right.
"Brownish. Dirty blonde."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Yeah. Mike. Right. Good guy. Good ball player."
"He hasn't played since he got hurt freshman year."
"Oh. Yeah, right."
"You know him?"
"Yeah. Well, know him to say hi to him. You know. We hung out in different circles. I was kind of a party-er."
Never tell the guy that Mike Green doesn't exist. Ruins the game. I guess what I'm saying is "Study abroad" — it's fun.
Joshua Kirley graduated from Notre Dame in 1999. He currently teaches high school algebra and American history in Florida.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Wednesday, October 25, 2000