Daily Archives: October 1, 2010

Poland, part 2; or: the socially anxious traveler

This post is a continuation of Poland, part 1….

While studying in Poland, I traveled extensively throughout Europe not only to see other parts of the world, but also to get away from the other Americans. Again, I had high hopes when I returned to Poland after I fled back to the states–expectations that I couldn’t live up to. The second I got off the airplane I knew things wouldn’t be different. I wouldn’t connect with anyone or fit in or feel comfortable–and I didn’t. And so, I spent as much time away as I could.

I’d now like to document my travels, which I should have done a long time ago ..

BEFORE POLAND

New York City (January 7th-11th, 2006)

I had a blast in New York. In fact, I had such a good time, I ended up moving there a year later. We (my ex-girlfriend and I) stayed in a YMCA hostel near Times Square for a night, but after getting no sleep, because of the extremely loud steam heating system, we moved to a hotel (also near Times Square).

Unfortunately, most of the pictures taken either have me and/or my girlfriend in them. So I can’t post them.

On liberty island, looking toward Manhattan.

Watching a band at CBGB who described themselves as Radiohead meets Pink Floyd. They turned out to be nothing like that. It was still cool, and I’m glad I went because the club closed later that year.

London (January 12th-14th)

After New York, we flew to London. I don’t think I saw the sun once, which somewhat prepared me for the weather here in San Francisco.

Buckingham Palace

Dali Museum

Tube

Big Ben

Paris (January 15th-18th)

Paris was/is definitely one of my favorite cities. Again, I didn’t see the sun or sky, but the wonderful architecture made up for it. I also fell in love with crepes and nutella–and nutella on crepes.

Arc de Triomphe

Madrid (January 19th-23rd )

Next up was Madrid. I honestly didn’t care for the city (aside for the Prado Museum), but that could be because I was starting to get a bit burned out. I did get some sun, though. These pictures are of no significance ..

Rome (January 24th-27th)

I got sick the first day in Rome. I didn’t really enjoy the city. If I wasn’t sick and was Catholic I probably would have enjoyed it more. I’ll make a mental note of that in case I ever go back.

Vatican Museum

Ancient ruins

Colosseum

DURING MY TIME IN POLAND

Budapest (February 10th-12th)

So, as I said in my previous post, my first few weeks in Poland were hard–so hard, in fact, I had to go home. When I returned, a week later, all the Americans welcomed me back by feeding me shots of vodka. We all went out that night. I don’t remember much. In the morning I awoke to an angry girlfriend who said she was going to go to Budapest to visit her ex-boyfriend–who she dated when she lived in Hungary with her family on an exchange program–because I apparently did something stupid the night before. She wouldn’t say what exactly, and I was still a bit drunk so I didn’t care.

In retrospect, I don’t think I did anything–she was just looking for an excuse to see her ex-boyfriend.

Anyway, my girlfriend left, and I went back to sleep. I got up again a few hours later. Sober, I realized what had happened, and so I hightailed it to Budapest. I don’t remember much of the city because I honestly didn’t do much. I spent most of my time in a hotel, hungover.

Chain Bridge

Prague (March 9th-13th)

After Budapest I had a month of social hell–everything from attending classes to going on a pub crawl (and blacking out) to leaving my room to brush my teeth was very difficult. That said, Prague was an amazing city–one of my favorites, architecturally speaking. Oh, and we also got snowed in for a night.

Prague Castle

Red roof city

Drinking the pain away ..

Germany: Frankfurt and Heidelberg (March 24th-26th)

We flew on a discount airline (like $20 a ticket) from Warsaw to Frankfurt–a boring, ultra-modern city, I felt like I was in the financial district of NY–and then took a train to Heidelberg, a small college town in the south-west portion of the country. I enjoyed the city.

Skyscrapers in Frankfurt

Tree path in Frankfurt

Heidelberg–red roof city 2

Famous church in Heidelberg

Poznan, Poland (March 31st-April 2nd)

I don’t remember much of Poznan, aside for the excellent local beer from the bar at the hotel. I think we saw more of the bar than the actual city.

Old town square

Former Pope, John Paul II memorial (about 90% of
the population in Poland is Catholic)

Gdansk, Poland (April 7th-9th)

I also don’t remember much of Gdansk, namely because all the Americans went there together, as an organized group, and I had a terrible time. I think I’ve blocked most of it out. I remember three hour dinners each night, having to sit at a table with fifteen other people I didn’t connect with. I drank a lot.

Solidarity memorial

Bird flu

Hurghada, Egypt (April 15th to 22nd)

We spent spring break in Egypt. It was great–I got to forget all the horrible social interactions in Poland, and I even forgot I had to go back. We bought our tickets through a Polish travel agency and ended up staying at a Polish resort.

Red Sea

Trip to Giza / Cairo

Resort

Krakow, Poland (April 30th- May 5th)

Krakow. Another group trip. Another disaster.

Auschwitz

Jewish cemetary

Salt mine

Wawel Castle

Amsterdam (May 6th-10th)

Amsterdam was a nice break–got high, saw Radiohead.

Canals

More canals

Pot

Heineken Brewery

Thom Yorke

Brussels (May 12th to 14th)

I wasn’t planning on traveling that weekend, but I found out we had a group dinner, and so I picked the cheapest flight. I was very depressed in Brussels. There also wasn’t much to do. I spent most of my time in the hostel and only came out for a few meals of ice cream and waffles. I got so bored, I took a train back to Amsterdam and got really, really high.

Cool church

Arc de Triomphe

Random street

Manneken Pis

AFTER POLAND

Oslo, Norway (May 21st to 23rd, 28th to 29th)

Saying goodbye to everyone in Poland was difficult. Those who really made connections with people were crying. I just felt like an outsider, giving forced smiles and hugs. When I stepped on the plane, I felt an immediate release. I could escape again.

Norway was beautiful, but Oslo wasn’t so great–just another big city.

Harbor, round 1

Harbor, round 2

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Bergen, Norway (May 23rd to 28th)

Bergen, a city surrounded by beautiful fjords and seven mountains, was absolutely amazing. So beautiful, so wonderful. I wanted to learn the language and stay there forever.

Harbor

Mountains ..

.. fjords

Cool church

City

Alley

London (May 29th to 30th)

We had a layover in London before returning home. It was actually sunny, so I spent the day running around the city taking photos to make up for the gloomy photos from the first time around.

Big Ben

Big Ben, Westminster, London Eye

Colosseum

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social anxiety vs. shyness

I’m so sick of hearing people say Social Anxiety Disorder is just another way of saying someone is extremely shy or introverted. I’ve even heard someone argue that social anxiety is just a euphemism for shyness–which doesn’t make any sense to me. Sure, shyness and introversion are generally a part of social anxiety, but they are not the only parts. Not every shy and/or introverted person has Social Anxiety Disorder.

So what’s the difference?

Well, shyness and introversion can make life difficult at times but you generally pull through. You go to parties and other social gatherings, you make speeches in school, you accept promotions at your job, etc. They’re difficult, in other words, but you still get through them. With Social Anxiety Disorder though, it becomes almost impossible to engage socially, even in the most basic social situations. You have difficulty standing in line at the grocery store, you can’t talk on the phone, you avoid all social situations, etc.

Shyness makes life difficult; social anxiety makes life impossible.

With that said, I think in our society people jump to hasty conclusions, demanding drugs when drugs may not be needed. Sometimes people who are just shy may be diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder and be given drugs, and this has hurt the people who really do have the disorder, as it gives everyone a bad name. But not everyone operates in this manner; there is legitimate suffering going on. People need to be conscious of this before they trivialize someone’s problems.