It’s standard that everyone who returns from a study abroad uses whatever platform they can to talk about how the experience affected them. In keeping with norms, the experience predictably affected me, and one of the biggest impacts of my study abroad on me is through my coffee habits.
My introduction to coffee was similar to that of most people, I think. It started with a curious smell, soothing and reminiscent of a winter hot chocolate, and it ended with a burned tongue, bitter expression and a full cup being thrown away in the trash. Coffee was gross, and my parents, utilizing the opportunity, preached about how addictive it was. And so it was, the middle school me pledged to ‘stay clean,’ in a sense.
Flashforward a few years and I had embraced the drink, but with the small caveat of a lot of cream. By my junior year of high school, class culture notoriously treated carrying a cup, mug or tumbler full of coffee as though it was a badge of honor. And you got bonus street cred if you brewed your extra cups at school, in the eyes of the student body.
The next five years of my life were sponsored by the hot drink market. My high school habits transitioned well into the trademarks of college living with a gifted Keurig brewer and my weight in K-Pods to boot, ensuring I made it to my morning classes. The focus was always a matter of quantity over quality.
For the past six years, coffee has been a standard of my life — whether out of habit, out of necessity to stay awake, and sometimes, out of boredom. The entirety of my relationship with coffee, I never saw the drink as more than a means to an end. And it wasn’t until I spent a semester in Europe that a quick caffeine fix turned into one of my favorite parts of the day.
Coffee is meant to be enjoyed, and on most occasions, concentrated. Throughout France and Italy, espresso is the drink of choice — alongside a copy of the local paper. And laptops or other work rarely appeared at cafés, where if you weren’t looking like you were pondering the meaning of life, you were talking about it with your friends. Coffee was an experience to enjoy, not a thing to be drank.
The same can be said about the rest of life abroad. People go on walks for the sake of seeing the city and pedestrians sit on benches at the park just to see the day fly by with hardly any need for distraction from phones. Museums are as integral to cultures as their football teams. After a semester of living for the sake of fulfilment, coming back to the U.S. was a shock — both to my new taste for coffee and for my new outlook on spending time.
When you learn to slow down, you see how fast people go on with their lives. Walking to class isn’t fast enough without an e-scooter to zoom through campus. Lines are too slow not to pull your phone out and see what’s viral. Every action in higher education should be done with career plans and the future in mind. And regular coffee is too hot to drink as quickly as students need their hourly dose of caffeine.
No matter what side of the world you’re on, mornings are the worst part of the day. But now the best part of the morning echoes what I learned from French and Italian espressos: yes, they’re small, but when we prefer the experience rather than the thing, even something as mundane as coffee can be more fulfilling. Otherwise, what’s the point of staying awake if you’re not actively living your life?