I began to realize in January of 2007, upon making a somewhat rash decision to travel abroad for the next semester of my undergraduate career, that I wanted to reinvent myself. In fact, I merely wanted to invent myself in the first place because I had never done so before. I began trying countless new things: hobbies, perspectives, time management, values, opinions, and career paths. However, I really let loose when I landed in Italy last fall. Here is an essay I wrote in a creative writing class while abroad. I invented a world for myself, one that has only existed during my fall 2007 semester in Perugia, Italy. It explains what a drastic revolution I underwent in terms of mindset, values, goals, and perspective on the world. I am still Laura Noges, but the girl who left the States and the girl who returned are undoubtedly different people.


540°

If my math were better, I would have known that 360° plus another 180° was 540°, not 420° like I tried to tell my boyfriend, Michael, last night. Truth be told, I’m a avid math student, but, in my defense, I was having a rough night. Regardless of my momentarily nonexistent arithmetic skills, I was explaining to him how my perspective on life has not only done one complete revolution, but a revolution and a half since my arrival in Italy over three months ago. After months of pure pleasure and contentment in romantic Italy, all my pre-abroad insecurities, worries, and uncertainties came pouring over my mind last night, just three weeks before I return home to the States. However, this morning, I woke up to an email from Michael with a song attached: “Life’s A Dance”…you learn as you go, by John Michael Montgomery. I love country songs – they speak the truth. Of course you learn as you go. You make mistakes, and it's okay! There is no choice but to experience, make decisions, learn from the decisions that you've made, and keep going. I have certainly lived and learned this semester.

I arrived in Perugia assuming that I would go crazy for a semester, travel the world (or at least Europe), and return to the States to become a successful, rich dentist with a country home complete with horses and beautiful, brilliant children. I knew I came to Italy for a semester to “find myself,” but I had no idea how much finding of myself I was in for.

After the first two months of living the Italian dream, I never wanted to go back to the US. I resolved to spend my life abroad, experiencing all I could. I wanted to ski in the Alps, join a nudist colony for a week, work on an organic farm in New Zealand, and live in a tiny Indian village cutting the villagers’ hair and giving massages. I wanted to travel the world by myself, truly becoming part of each culture – I planned on becoming a native of the entire globe. I was a rebel without a cause. A girl with a purpose to be carefree, freelance, confident and unshakable. I wanted to do everything just to say I’d been there and done that. I was falling away from all my previous convictions, all assumptions I’d been raised under, and all societal expectations. Although I couldn’t go through with this particular venture, I almost wanted to purposefully become a bad student just to see what it was like. I wanted to be anything BUT a white, middle-class, tall, blonde girl. Since when is it taboo for me to become a Buddhist, a biker babe, or to pick up and move to China to study the art of acupuncture? I wanted to try every lifestyle so that I could thoughtfully combine them all into a unique way of life I could make my own.

Michael came to visit halfway through my semester here and he was shocked by the raging adventurer that was overtaking me. He was stunned and I daresay a bit impressed with the new me. Showing up at the airport gate to meet him, he hardly recognized the European version of his girlfriend: leggings, a sleek dress, and knee-high leather boots had disguised every and all of my American traits. Beyond appearance, I had dropped my entire career plan in favor of a wild, free-spirited lifestyle. I was determined to break free. Michael really had no idea what to do with himself, let alone me. It is kind of funny, looking back.

Immediately after Michael flew home to the States, I headed off for a weeklong autumn break in the British Isles. I traveled solo, but met up with friends in the cities I visited. Let me tell you, Ireland, Scotland, and England each offered stunning scenery. After living in the historical center of Perugia for a few months where you have to search hard to find grass, I was aching to be in the countryside again. More importantly, I was itching to get away from hoards of people for once. I have discovered that I’m actually a distinct introvert and it takes all my energy to hang around groups all day. At last, I had several long bus rides all to myself on this vacation trip. Plugged into my iPod in the back of a coach bus, I lazily watched pastures zip by, full of herds of cattle, sheep, horses, or sometimes windmills. I doubt that I could have been more content.

I remember thinking a lot of things over on one particular bus ride from St. Andrews to Edinburgh. The Scottish countryside was breathtaking. The sky was lightly overcast but there were a couple breaks in the clouds right above the bay. Brilliant rays of white light shot down from the heavens and reflected off the steel gray water. It was the closest I’ve ever felt to being religious. Actually, I like the term “spiritual” better. When I see something so naturally beautiful like that illuminated bay, I love to imagine that everything comes together and works perfectly in life, no matter how hard it might seem at times.

On that single bus ride, I discovered so many things about myself. I defined true love in my own words and realized what it meant to me on a personal basis. I strive to be accepted, unconditionally, and respected for my opinions and thoughts. True love means choosing to share your life with someone because it brings infinitely more happiness than enjoying it alone. Furthermore, I resolved to continue on my career path toward dentistry; I’d simply use my free time and extra money to travel and make a difference in the world. I made innumerable other New Year’s resolution type decisions that ranged from the tiniest detail of life – like doing squats while brushing my teeth in the morning – to much graver discoveries regarding my values, ambitions, and passions. Most timely, I realized that heavy drinking was not for me, especially the night before a bus ride through hilly terrain. The part that is most fascinating about this particular bus ride thought session is that, over a month later, I still firmly stand by these epiphanies and decisions.

After gallivanting around the UK, I returned to Italy much surer of who I was as a person. They say you define yourself in your college years, and perhaps that’s true, but I believe that I needed to get out on my own in order to do so. Taking a semester abroad certainly jumpstarted my efforts to define my values, think on my own, and prioritize my goals. However, I still had a little rebel streak in me.

My next trip was to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I became completely inspired, on a whim, to dreadlock my hair. I wanted to prove to myself and others that my appearance wasn’t everything. I am more than that. I wanted to be judged. I wanted to experience the difference between looking like everyone else and trying something alternative and controversial. Then, just like that, I said goodbye to my silky, blonde, long hair and dreaded it into a mat of waxy tangles. They lasted six days.
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Born and bred, I'm a dread head


Don’t get me wrong, I loved my dreads while I had them; but I was worried they’d become too permanent. So, naturally, I began desperately ripping them out of my tender scalp with a course brush… chopping away with scissors what I couldn’t untangle with a bottle of mineral oil, conditioner, and a comb. I had seemingly gone crazy. Apparently, my hair meant so little to me that I could dread it, chop it, pull it out, and dump oil into it until I was quite literally more water resistant than a duck. I distinctly remember giggling triumphantly as I thought about girls with long hair who, upon cutting it merely up to their shoulders at a chic salon, began crying. Oh please. Hair grows. Life continues. Bring it on.

So as not to appall my family when I return home mid-December, I will break down and go to an Italian salon to get a true haircut soon. However, I’m still enjoying my new carefree appearance.

In fact, Italy has instilled a wondrously carefree lifestyle in me. This is not to say that I no longer care about anything and have turned irresponsible or wayward. I have just as much ambition, commonsense, and responsibility, if not more, than I did back in August before starting this intense semester of travel, learning, and reflection. However, while I used to worry unhealthily about trivial concerns, I’ve learned to let the little things go and focus on bigger goals. I started a new habit of finding something that I appreciate each day. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is! For example, after returning from a very soggy weekend in Venice where not only the sea but unrelenting heavy rain ran through the Venetian streets, I was quite thankful that my feet were no longer sloshing around in soaking wet tennis shoes. It is refreshing to acknowledge the little things that make life pleasant, rather than worrying about all the little burdens. I can truthfully announce that I have become a more positive, relaxed, and clear-minded individual with drastically shorter hair while living abroad.
I changed from having a strict career plan to wanting a solitary life of world travel to rethinking and improving my career plan with the addition of some other important self realizations. I truly have experienced a revolution and a half in self discovery. 540°. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Hopefully, I can return to the States with the same outlook that I found over here. I’ll find out in 18 bittersweet days.
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Me in Dublin, Ireland


So why did I rebel? Did I invent a world for myself or just a new persona? Does everyone go through this inventive stage in their lifetime?

With more reflection, I simply raise more questions, but I've begun to narrow in on some possible reasons behind my instantaneous and adventurous attitude revolution while in Italy. I needed and still need to discover who I am. My process has fallen to creating a completely self-revolving and defining world until something clicks and I succeed in realizing who I am in the greater world. In Thoreau's Walden , he states, "...not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves..." This is a beautiful summary of all the confused and self-inspired feelings I have been experiencing over the last year. Similar to the philosophy presented by Chris McCandless in Into the Wild , I believe you must find yourself and then reinvent yourself in reality. To find yourself, spend some time, clear your schedule and clear your mind, and then partake in some good old-fashioned deep thought. Sit down and think things over. It's fascinating what comes to mind! Like McCandless, I wanted to disregard all judgement from the world for a time, and then return. I almost dared the world to judge me, simply so I could plant my feet, puff out my chest, and shout, "I don't care what you think... go on, judge me, but you won't change me. Offer me a sincere, thoughtful, and controversial conversation and maybe we'll get somewhere!"

I believe wholeheartedly that I must retreat within myself to find myself, and only then can I rejoin the world: reality. Once I am satisfied that I know myself and that I am happy with who I am, I will be able to return to the global community on Earth. You need to be secure with yourself before you can change the world for the better. A better world starts with just one more happy person.

Works Cited:
Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1996.
Thoreau, Henry D. Walden. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1989.


What I have to offer:
Laura's main page
540 Degrees
Slow Life vs. Second Life
Creating YOUR World
A Dark Future- Snow Crash and the Matrix
Spring Break- The Invented World of College Kids
You-topias
Short Fiction- Little Miracle
Adventures of Nyleve Rayna
Africa in SL



Eng. 216 Syllabus
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