Third Wheels & Inside Jokes
I should start this off by informing you that I spent a semester abroad last spring (2012) in Florence, Italy. As many students who study abroad have realized, it’s probably one of the best experiences of their lives thus far so when they return to the States, that’s probably all they seem to talk about for a long time.
For the friends and family that haven’t gone abroad, this can be awesome at first! Story time about a foreign country? Heck yes! Tell us everything! What did you do? Who did you meet? Where else did you go? For the study abroaders, this is an awesome time to share your experiences without seeming like you’re bragging (I mean, I guess it is bragging in way, but at least you won’t sound like a pompous jerk doing it if it’s being asked of you anyways..) But after a while it gets insanely annoying for the non-study abroaders.
I know that I still catch myself rambling on about that time I was in Italy or in Spain or Ireland or Switzerland or Sicily or France… See? But I typically try to catch myself because I can just sense my friends around me kind of internally groaning that I am once again reminiscing about events they weren’t part of. It’s kind of like being a third wheel or part of a group of three best friends- someone always feels left out when the other two start laughing hysterically at an inside joke that “you weren’t there for.” It’s an unpleasant feeling if it goes on for too long and in my case, I’ve been talking about this inside joke for over a year now.
So then I have to pose the question many of us struggle with; should we have to “censor” ourselves around friends that weren’t there for our experience? I know my first response would be something like UHHH No absolutely not! This is a big part of my life, they should accept it!
But then when I give it more thought and put myself in their shoes, which I often do almost too often, I am able to recognize how cruddy it can make people feel.
That being said, I definitely think it is a two way street when it comes to the censorship issue; what I mean is that because I may have my time in Florence as my “inside joke,” my friends often forget that they too have their own “inside joke.” It was that entire semester that they all spent together back here at Champlain while I was alone with two other Champlain students in a completely foreign country… I can’t even begin to write out all of the times I have felt like a complete third wheel and even an outsider in my friend group since my return. It even started while I was abroad which is a really hard concept for many of my friends to grasp.
Like, yea, I’m in a beautiful country in a beautiful city with so many amazing opportunities waiting for me… How dare I say I wish I was at that party with my entire friend group where so many amazing pictures were taken and memories shared.
What I have tried so many times to explain is that it feel extremely isolating being away from everything you are familiar with. A foreign language surrounds you as you walk around the streets, people from all different backgrounds are living together in apartments that are so different from those in Burlington, the culture, the dress, the way of life; it’s all completely different. So yes, seeing those pictures of your friends back home being together and living life like it’s no different than it was when you were there is really REALLY hard to swallow at some points. There was a long period of time when I was abroad (and when I returned) that I began to realize that I was severely depressed; my friends in the states rarely talked to me and when they did, it was brief and ended with “Get off Facebook and go explore.” Half of them didn’t even realize that I spent the first two weeks confined to my bed because of an extremely painful cyst on my tailbone that left me unable to walk and the medicine I was on left me unable to eat anything (I couldn’t even keep water down half of the time.) It was horrifying; I was in the hospital for 8 hours my first full day in Florence. Yes some great things came from that experience looking back, but at the time I was just so scared and sick that I wanted the comfort of my friends. I didn’t get it.
Now I know that this can also be viewed as an attest of my friendships; were they really as close as I thought they were before I left? Not at all. Were they worth the effort I put in to remain in touch? At the time, not at all. Have I forgiven them? Most of them, no. Some have tried to understand and with some coaxing they have apologized, but deep down I will always remember how they left me high and dry when I needed them most.
I’ve also realized that the jealousy or envy goes both ways. It’s kind of funny to think about now that it’s been over a year since I arrived in Italy; when I was there I longed to be home, now that I am home I want nothing more than to return to Europe. I talked about my friends from home constantly while I was in Europe and talk about my friends from Europe constantly now that I am home. Sometimes I even feel angry with myself for wasting time and effort longing to be home; did I miss out on what was happening around me? I’m positive I did at some points. But overall, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life so far.
What I Learned:
So with all of this reflecting, I have come to the conclusion that my time abroad has made me a better person in ways I couldn’t even imagine before my trip. I’m more cultured, I’ve seen much more of the world than many of my friends and family, I’ve become stronger and more independent. But one of the most important improvements to who I am as a person is my ability to recognize all of the things I have mentioned above and understand both sides of the story; my friends perspective and my own. I have improved upon my ability to be compassionate; to put myself in other peoples shoes, which is something I will carry on throughout my life far beyond the relationships I have now or had in the past. It’s a quality that I feel is important on so many levels, yet I don’t see too many people my age truly taking the time to reflect both internally and externally and for that reason, I do not regret a single moment of my study abroad experience. It is part of who I am, forever engrained in my character and identity.
Application of These Lessons:
In my Consumer Behavior Class I learned that in marketing it is extremely important to be able to put yourself in the mind of the consumers. In order to successfully market a product, the marketer must understand the needs, wants, and desires of a consumer. Understanding the consumer can only be done by understanding the mindset of the targeted audience or by putting yourself (the marketer) in the shoes of the consumer (the target market.) I believe that my experience abroad and ability to self reflect as well as reflect from another’s perspective, has enhanced my skills in understanding consumer behavior and in marketing. My international experience has shown me the challenges behind getting someone who isn’t “in” the moment or experience, to get excited about it. I have learned to tell a story that engages people in a way that keeps their attention, gains their excitement and creates a desire to be a part of those experiences; all of which are strong qualities to possess as a marketer.