Almost a year ago, to the hour, I touched down in Slovakia. I subsequently got black out drunk and made it home, all thanks and praise to divine intervention.
It's almost impossible to believe that I've been here, in Bratislava, for a year. It's gone by relatively quickly, especially the last few months; and yet, there were days, near the beginning in particular, that felt as though they dragged on for at least 7 eternities. That's a lot of eternities, I'll have you know.
I've come a long way, let me declare. Not so long ago, I had nary a clue, how to get anywhere. I didn't even have a concept of where I might need to go. Thank goodness the grocery store has oversized pictures of fruit adorning it. I can now cop oatmeal and Nutella in a number of supermarkets, with impressive efficiency.
I'm a public transport ninja, jumping from bus to tram to streetcar, all the while dodging ticket inspectors with impunity. I use a ticket about 8% of the time, and have yet to be caught by the steroid-jacked, skinhead trolls who patrol the system - I'm crafty as hell, but have now likely jinxed myself.
It's not all firecrackers and sunsets though. I don't know as much Slovak as I would like. But I haven't made learning it a priority. The blame rests solely on my shoulders. Had I known the Slovak word for shoulders, I would have used it right there. After I quit my job, and the two language-lessons a week that were included pro bono, Google Translate became a surprisingly effective teacher. I am able to articulate myself quite well as a result, but often have no idea what the ensuing reply is. I don't get thrown for as many loops in the grocery store. As of now, I can get by pretty well on the day-to-day, but when shit hits the fan, you need to have a native speaker around.
I can spot tourists from a mile away.
Certain smells and songs seem to anchor me to different times. The wafting odor of the nearby Kraft factory reminds me of summer nights. A track from the most recent Dave Matthews band album reminds me of feeling hopeless and alone, as upsetting as that might sound.
I've seen a lot of places, but not enough. Eastern Europe is amazing and the culture is something else entirely. In the last few months I've been fortunate enough to hit up not only rural Slovakia, but Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, and Hungary. The list is due to expand this summer, which I'm excited about. Now that I'm in a position of increased freedom, and as I realize/jump-for-joy that I'm not going to be here forever, I will certainly make further travel around Europe, specifically Eastern Europe and the Balkans, a priority.
I got sold on a job that turned out to be a lot less desirable than I had been led to believe. I felt chained to my desk and enslaved, trading my valuable hours for not nearly enough Euro. So I quit, and started my own firm. It has been immensely challenging, but the rewards, financial and otherwise, have been well worth the risk. I am excited to continue growing my business.
It's been a great time, and I don't regret it whatsoever. But let me make one thing clear, for all you kids who think I'm just hangin' in Europe, without a care in the world: Living alone in a non-English speaking country for a year has been very difficult. It's been unfathomably frustrating, on more than one occasion. I can only imagine how much different my experience would have been, had I been less focussed on work and in a country where I could easily communicate with the locals. French only would have been a positive, even. As I said earlier though, I don't harbor ANY regrets about how I'm doing things. As long as I continue to always hustle harder, I'm bound to do alright.
If I learn half as much in year two, as I did in year one, I'll be well on my way to "certified genius" in no time.
I'm pumped about the idea of going home.