In this blog post series, I interview world travelers about objects that came home in their bags and what those objects mean to them. This week’s post features Lauren, a global cultures aficionado, hiker, and sociologist. You can ready more about Lauren and her wife, Rachel, on Rachel’s inspiring blog (Lauren is “AM” and Rachel is “T-Bell.”).
Jen: Lauren, you have had so many fascinating travel and life experiences. How would you describe yourself and your place in the world?
Lauren: I’m a 30-something sociologist, which kind of oddly describes my worldview. I find people, organizations and cultures fascinating, and I can’t help trying to figure out why people/organizations do what they do. Being 30ish is also oddly important–it’s being in that awkward place between generations where you don’t quite fit in with the Gen Xers and are a little too old school for the real Millennials. I think it’s part of what makes me wonder so much about why people do what they do, because I don’t quite feel like my way of approaching the world is quite the same as the rest of the generation I’m identified with. In keeping with this orientation toward observing and analyzing, I really enjoy travel.
Jen: Where have you traveled?
Lauren: My parents were lovely enough to haul my sister and me around Europe and Asia for a couple of weeks every year through high school, and I spent a semester backpacking around Europe on my college abroad program. Sadly, I haven’t had too many opportunities to head abroad in the last 10 years or so (though I am running away to the UK in a week!). In the meantime, I’ve wandered around the US on plenty of road trips.
Jen: What was one of your most memorable experiences abroad?
Lauren: I spent a semester abroad on a Women’s Studies in Central Europe program through Antioch College. As one might guess, it was (sadly) all women. I really think a little testosterone would have changed the dynamic and probably broadened the discourse in a positive way, but it was what it was and, generally, the people I was traveling with were lovely and I had a great time. We traveled to 7 cities in 3 months: Antwerp, Brussels, Berlin, Krakow, Warsaw, Utrecht and London. Given that we had no home base and we were changing cities every week or two, we often looked like backpacks with legs as we wandered through train stations and airports, or through the city as we were trying to find our hostel.
Jen: What object did you bring home from that trip?
Lauren: At the half-way point of the program we were in Warsaw. It was also at about that point that I was getting pretty tired of having to be engaged with the 16 women on the program, and was desperately in need of some time to myself to recharge for the second half of the trip. So, I decided to wander toward the old part of the city, with a lot more stopping to look in windows and admire the pre-Soviet architecture than usual. In one of the windows, I saw guitars hanging on the wall, which made me miss my guitar back home. I figured I might as well go in and play for a little bit to see if that would make me feel better, but as soon as I picked up the smallest classical acoustic guitar on the wall, I knew I needed to buy it. Never mind the problems I was going to have hauling it through two more countries and then back to the US; I was going to buy the guitar because I needed to have somewhere to retreat to make me happy.
Jen: Did you buy it on the spot?
Lauren: I was in Poland and the shopkeeper spoke no English and I spoke no Polish. After fumbling around for a bit, I asked if he spoke French, which he did. So we managed to complete the transaction and have a little chat about music. I was both surprised and pretty pleased with myself that I’d managed to conduct this transaction for an object that I knew was going to make me extremely happy and yet be a total hassle, while speaking French in Poland.
Jen: Wow – I love that! How did the guitar impact the rest of your trip?
Lauren: What I didn’t know when I bought the guitar was that people would flock to it back at the hostel. As we passed it around and played and sang, it really helped diffuse some of the weird energy that had built up. Turns out we all needed a break from the overly cerebral feminist group dynamic, and a bit of music was instrumental (pun intended!) in helping us achieve that. Of all the places we went on that trip, Warsaw was definitely the dreariest (imposing soviet architecture, cold, people bundled up), but I remember it fondly, in large part because of the guitar.
Jen: Where is the guitar now?
Lauren: After making it through Europe, the guitar turned into my traveling guitar. I left my fancy Martin at home with my family and took my Polish guitar wherever I moved. I still pick it up to play and it reminds me that 1) if I’m having a bad day, music helps, 2) I’m totally capable of handling the new and unfamiliar on my own, and 3) it’s totally worth a bit of hassle to be happy.