The Tourist and the Traveler... and the Inhabitant...
Most people know the difference between a tourist and a traveler.
The tourist stays hidden within the safe confines of the hotel, lest choosing to see only the most popular sites; they take pictures, documenting the "vacay" and (not-so) subtly bragging about it on every social media front; they wear big sunglasses, bikini tops, with bermuda shorts and a gob of sunscreen on their nose; they're loud, obnoxious, and, for the most part, uncultured. A tourist dips their toe in the water, but decides it's far too cold for a swim. They watch through the eyes of an outsider.
Nobody wants to be this person; luckily, the traveler is another beast entirely, and crossing between these two requires nothing more than a shift of perspective.
Like the tourist, the traveler is an outsider, foreign to the people and places they encounter. But the lens through which they see is different... it is tinted with desire. A desire to learn, to see, to connect, even if that means getting their hands dirty. The traveler yearns to look beyond every bend, to wander off the beaten path, to step into another life (if only for a week). They are the culturally aware, the conscientious and curious, slipping on costumes and playing their parts. Whether these are the people we see on Instagram (draped in parachute pants, often with a ukulele in tow), or simply those who venture outside their comfort zone, depends entirely on the way their journey affects them.
However, as an exchange student, I believe I'm subject to another shift of perspective, one which isn't available to most: from that of the traveler to that of the inhabitant.
When I decided to spend my sophomore year in Italy, I felt that inhabitancy was the most appealing factor. The idea that I could be comfortable, even bored, in a country as glamorous as Italy, was almost more exciting then the "glamor" itself.
Perhaps we've ought to be careful what we wish for.
Now, of course I'm not bored. I don't think I could ever be bored. Heck, I don't speak the language: if I'm not on my toes 24/7, I'll probably get lost in a pizzeria somewhere. No, I'm not bored... rather, as I settle in, the luster is simply beginning to fade. That is the price we pay for normalcy.
Indeed, I'm the best example of this phenomenon, for while I grew up in Telluride, Colorado, one of the most beautiful mountain towns in North America (I believe it was ranked number five), all I wanted to do was travel. For while travel, however immersive, is lined with an aura of novice, inhabitancy comes with problems of its own. Inhabitancy rings of social duties, of traffic jams, of making beds in the morning and waiting in lines at the supermarket. If tourists and travelers are outsides, inhabitants are the insiders, privy to the best-kept secret in marketing; nothing is perfect. Not even Italy (though it's pretty darn close).
But perhaps that's exactly what I need. I didn't come halfway around the world to circumvent the hard parts, to simply ignore that which doesn't immediately please. I'm not here to comment on architecture and then go on my merry way. I'm here for the traffic jams, for the moments when Google translate fails, for the fights with my new host sister and the high school drama of my class. I'm here to learn, to grow... and that can only be done as an insider.
Plus, I have to "inhabit" somewhere... I might as well do it with gelato!
(One picture from Milan, in which I am definitely a tourist).