There and Back Again
I've been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit in my 2+ decades. Certainly most than the majority of my American peers who never register for a passport.
While I've been on more recent trips, my 2014 stay in the Netherlands was the most formative time I've spent internationally. I found myself embraced by the local students after only a few days--much of this is attributable to the student apartment complex I stayed in and the organizations I joined before crossing the Atlantic. After my first week, I purchased a used bike.
For those of you who have visited the Netherlands, it comes as old news that the bike is a critical part of Dutch culture. Those of you who have not yet visited Holland should imagine some sort of California-esque liberal utopia with a certain Germanic flair that's challenging to define. Perhaps more simply, imagine bike lanes on every road--bike lanes separated from the main road by a median and from the sidewalk by the typical curb. Anyway, there was absolutely no need for a car in Maastricht (the city where I lived for 6 months).
In Maastricht I could walk to market and was clearly expected to--I then carried my groceries home. Obviously this custom greatly reduces the amount of food consumed in the Netherlands. I biked to school every day and back into the city at night to revel with friends--biking under the influence is challenging enough to keep anyone severely impaired from getting very far.
Free time was not spent binging on Netflix or video-games, but rather it was spent celebrating random European holidays, drinking coffee on the city square, walking around the 800 year old city, biking across the border to Belgium or Germany--the people are active and healthy.
Coming back to the US, moving back to suburbia where I grew up, was a bit challenging. Back in suburbia, we lived a 30-minute drive from just about anything. Walking to the supermarket would take the better part of an hour--obviously we drove. I couldn't walk to the city, biking would've been challenging and dangerous without proper bike lanes on our major thoroughfares.
Back at school, with 30,000 friends, I was nostalgic for the smaller sections at Maastricht and the more realistic and engaging Problem-Based Learning model. I missed the diversity of attending class with a student body that was 60% international. It's not a knock on UGA, but we do things at scale here in the US. Sometimes it's just nice to have that handmade roughness around the edges--little touches like professors that know your name.
I hope to find myself on a bike again soon--but I expect it will be quite some time before I find myself in a city where biking is practical as a means of transportation.