Thursday, December 17, 2015

An ode to Switzerland

An ode to Switzerland
I'll miss seeing the mountains on the train to school every morning; I'll miss the peculiarly trained Swiss dogs; I'll miss the swiss cheese and chocolate; I'll miss hearing at least 3 languages a day; I'll miss hearing the tram speaker saying mysterious numbers in French; I'll miss walking along the river every morning; I'll miss the croissants before class; I'll miss my professors with extreme stories of fleeing from Armenia or Pro-Palestinian protests; I'll miss mulled wine at school; I'll miss walks in the park with Nicolas; I'll miss early train rides; I'll miss mountain lakes; I'll miss long, day hikes; I'll miss dates with Megan; I'll miss spontaneity; I'll miss sitting on the steps of the train station watching everyone bustle to work; I'll miss staying up too late; I'll miss Ethno; I'll miss family dinners with the loveliest of friends; I'll miss Geneva; I'll miss it all.

20 favorite lessons
Here are a few of my favorite lessons I learned from studying abroad, making mistakes, making friends, traveling, traveling alone, getting lost, enjoying good food, seeing amazing sights, meeting strangers, being out of my comfort zone, being in total silence, experiencing the Earth, making incredible human connections, and loving a lot.

1. be open to love
2. be grateful for every moment
3. stay up too late with your friends
4. hike to the top of the mountain
5. have friends who carry headlamps in their purses
6. appreciate diversity in all its forms
7. eat dark chocolate
8. don't ever turn down tea (Adnan)
9. don't be lazy
10. discipline yourself in the direction of what you want most, regardless of anything
11. wake up an hour earlier to live an hour longer
12. if there is a choice between the road and the river, walk along the river
13. this beautiful planet we live on is amazing, so we should do everything in our power to keep it that way
14. trust, trust, trust in the process
15. befriend those who you most naturally gravitate towards, those are your true friends
16. go with the flow, it will be okay
17. take the time to find the perfect gift for someone you love
18. make friends with the locals
19. keep a journal
20. be adaptable and let yourself live

12 favorite mistakes
1. Being lost.  Attempting to get to Lucerne, Megan and I arrived late at night to a train station having only one hour to get to our hostel before check-in closed, knowing the hostel was half an hour away, having no map, no directions, no phone data, no information desk open, and no clue how to identify someone who speaks English (we did end up making it, and it was the best weekend of my life), but so many of these experiences have taught me, it's good to be lost.  Put down your phone.  These kind of situations were so inevitable, and although they happened and often, studying abroad would never have been the same had we not worked together, laughed in awkward companionship entirely unsure of what is ahead of us, and learned how to navigate the organic way. Be in touch with the world around you.  This was designed by someone brilliant, someone who was inspired by human connection and streets and how to create a community.  Experience it the way it was meant to be experienced.

2. Not knowing what the culturally appropriate way is to ask for a check. We literally have snt hours at restaurants making awkward eye contact with waiters, because in Switzerland, it isn't culturally accepted to wave down a waiter.. I honestly still don't know how to get a check in Europe.

3. Being overtired. Stay up all night.  Pack in a half an hour.  Leave at 4am.  Repeat. But as Emmy once said, "it fosters a sense of comradery. It's like..we're all here..we're all having a hard time doing life today, but we're all in it together." Being overtired has led to some of my favorite memories.. naps in the park, cuddling on the train, emergency coffee that requires us to run to the train that leaves in 20 seconds, laughing hysterically and uncontrollably on public transport. We lived so much life in these short 4 months.

4. That one night that must not be named

5. Research is important.  There were quite a few times that we would hop off of a train or a plane and look in both directions and say, "uh oh".  The times we didn't look up the address to the hostel.  The times we didn't look up what we wanted to do.  The times we didn't look up where to eat.  The times we didn't look up where the train station was.  The times we didn't look up train schedules.  The times we didn't look up anything.  Some of them are my favorite memories, but when you don't have cell phone data and no information desks, sticky situations get stickier. We learned quickly, but the lesson was definitely learned the hard way.  Research is always important. 

6. Not planning a week long trip until the night before. We planned a 10 day trip around Spain in one night.  And ended it with a lost camera, a lost phone, a lost jacket, a flight missed, a plane ticket lost, a lot of dirty laundry, and one of the best trips of our lives.

Causes of lost items throughout study abroad:
1 phone: clubbing too hard
1 phone: skiing too hard
1 camera: beaching too hard
1 credit card: spending too hard
1 passport: it happens

Thanks for always going hard, friends.

7. Don't speak a word of the language. Navigating through cities in which you can't read any street signs or even try to order a coffee is more than a challenge. Czech was so foreign and I couldn't even pronounce a single phrase if I tried. It really gives you a sense of independence and a realization that the world is not so difficult.  If you want to do something, just do it.  You'll figure it out.  Work hard, prepare yourself, do all the right things.  Inevitably, things will get messed up and you'll get off on the wrong stop or do the wrong thing, but it will be fine. Life will keep going and you'll figure it out. Not speaking the language makes me quiet.  It allows me to observe and to become part of the culture.  It taught me that people are just people.  People will try to help you.  People will smile back when you smile to them.  People will give kindness when you give it to them. I love it for its barrier qualities, which caused us to struggle, to be an adult, to trust, but I also love it for what beautiful human commonalities it brings forth and all the lovely human connection.

A side lesson learned from international travel: Trust your instincts.  Always.  You know when to hold onto your purse extra tight.  You can feel when you should turn left.  You know when someone is following you.  You know when someone needs a hug.  You can feel when someone needs space.  You know when something is off.  I am grateful for friends who trust their instincts and who speak up when they know something is wrong or even more, when something is right. 

8. Walk five miles home at 3am in Barcelona. Still in disbelief that we got home. Emmy once told me about this sign she saw when she hiked into the grand canyon a couple summers ago that said, "Going down is optional, coming up is mandatory." As in, you better be prepared to hike your ass out of the grand canyon after you stroll into it. Same with coming home from the club. 

9. Skip class (once). The world didn't end. It was magical. Yes, learning is amazing, but don't be a slave to the system.  Do it because you want to, not because someone tells you to.

10.  Go off the path, even if its in the snow with tennis shoes.

11. Spend obscene amounts of time with your friends. I will never ever regret a single post-midnight conversation or a walk to the grocery store when I didn't need anything or staying on campus two extra hours just so I could ride the train home and hear abut Megan & Emmy's day. 

12. Have no idea.  It's okay to not know.  I especially learned the value of not knowing what I'm doing next.  Don't plan everything.  If we were looking for something too hard, we ended up spending our time staring at a map and talking about logistics.  I refuse to spend my life talking about logistics. Look at the street.  Go to that restaurant with bad reviews.  It's worth not spending 20 minutes on your phone.  But also, be instinctive, don't waste time.  Do things, be active, see what you want to see. But it's a mindset of getting ourselves out of the habit of thinking we're running out of time.  We're not.  Life is happening in every moment. We sacrifice so much for plans and for the future, but life is only happening in the present.

 Every moment is so beautiful and every smile of a friend is worthy of your undivided attention. You never know when it may be fleeting. I will miss these beautiful people who live in every single moment with me. I will miss Emmy's soft side where she pulls he hair up or smiles at her book that is so different from political ranting Emmy, Adnan holding his camera capturing beautiful moments only he can see, Annie sticking her nose into a map and asking where the nearest bathroom is, CJ asking, in the most genuine manner possible, why I feel the way I feel, the vision of Caroline standing in the kitchen with a large concoction made by herself taste testing her new food invention with a silly grin, Grant pulling me into a headlock , asking me why he has to follow a certain social norm, the change in Spencer's expression when he speaks about his siblings, and the way Megan speaks about and cares for every single living thing. There was so much love shared and so much life experienced together in these last few months. So many laughs and secrets and memories. We grew together in a way that only that could never be recreated. We were lost in friendship and in love every step we took on every street. I am so grateful. 

"We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize."