Milanese Withdrawals

After being home for about a week, I realized how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to spend a semester abroad. Just as my advisor said before I embarked on this journey, every day was not perfect. I had my ups and downs and days of missing home a little more than usual, but overall I am extremely proud of myself for following one of my dreams of studying in Italy.

I can’t help but be extremely critical of any Italian food I eat here in the States. No plate of pasta will ever compare to the many (too many?) dishes of pasta I consumed in Italy. Put simply, I was spoiled. I had authentic Italian cuisine at my fingertips for three and a half months and, I can assure you I took advantage of it. Of course, I miss the people there as well. I was lucky enough to meet a great group of girls from Chicago, but some of my friends are not as easy to reach. I’ve already decided that I need to return to Europe within the next few years. The withdrawals have set in and I need my Italian fix!

As much as I miss Europe and its ridiculously cheap flights to surrounding countries, it feels great to be home. I was overwhelmed with joy when I saw my family waiting with open arms for me at the airport. I couldn’t wait to share stories and pictures with them from my many adventures. It was refreshing to return to the States and catch up wirh loved ones, especially for Christmas. But Italy will always hold a place in my heart. This semester was one of my best ones yet and provided me with everlasting memories, friendships, and life lessons. It was not an easy trip to make, as I went on my own and was filled with fear and worry but it was absolutely worth it. I honestly don’t know why every student who is able to study abroad does not take advantage of this outstanding program. There is so much more to this world than we realize until we actually go out and explore. I saw so much but, at the same time I feel as though I haven’t seen nearly enough! Looks like I’ll be making a trip back to my beloved Europe very soon…

Thanks to anyone who followed me throughout this journey!

Un bacione xx

A Whole New World

Celebrating my one-month anniversary of living in Italy! It’s weird to say that because I feel like my time here seems to have had flown and at the time it’s like I’ve been here for a year.

The Italian culture has finally infiltrated my American ways, and I slowly see myself fitting in more and more with the people around me. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely far from being an authentic Italian…VERY far.

Culturally speaking, the adjustment has been harsh and quick. Funny enough, I have discovered the Italians frequently use the term “like a New Yorker” to describe a broad list of actions done quickly and frankly…rudely. I find this pretty amusing since the term is generally used for all Americans and not just New Yorkers. I have found however that I DO in fact fall into these categories more than I assumed I would.

 

You might be described as a “New Yorker” here in Italy if you do any of the following:

-Walk ‘at the speed of light’ to get from place to place…passing dozens of people while doing it.

-…AND potentially putting yourself at risk of getting hit by a car JUST to pass these unbearably slow walkers

-If you avoid making eye contact with any vender on the side of the street (especially not stopping to listen to their deals or even to say “No Grazie”)

-…Actually make that avoiding eye contact with any passer-by in general.

 

Those are just a few examples of the stereotypes that I’m both dealing with and proving here in Florence. But who can blame me right? I’m just an American!

On another note, we are quickly approaching midterms, which seems nearly impossible. I have started my ‘intermediate’ level of Italian and I have to say that I’m very lost. I feel like I should be retaking beginners because it went by so quickly, and now my class is completely in Italian. No worries though, I will get through the second half of the class by trying to interpret the hand gestures of my Italian teacher and giving pained glances at my neighbor as we both feebly attempt to answer each question.

What I have deterred is that the classes, although less frequent in the week than my classes back in the States, are much longer. Each lesson is two and half hours, which sounds OK except for when you realize that your attention span is barely ready for an hour class.

However, that being said, it has definitely been a completely new experience learning about history in Europe. I’m enrolled in a European literature class, and we have been reading several novels from World War II. The Italian perspective of this war is so vastly different than when we learn it at home…it’s seems like a completely different war. Professors refer back to the United States, and ask us to compare what we know to what we are learning now.

I’m learning that this experience truly is priceless. Both culturally and academically, I am realizing that what I call home is such a small place compared to the rest of the world. People create their own homes all over the world where they have their own traditions and their own lives. They eat dinner at 9 PM, pick up their kids on a Vespa, and hang their clothes out to dry; and that doesn’t make them wrong.

People tell you all the time growing up that there is a whole world out there to explore, and I understand why some people are afraid to do it. It is humbling and real to see the amount of people in the world that don’t even know your hometown exists—and on top of that, don’t care. But with that being said, I’m so eager to explore it more.

–Stay tuned!

Milano In My Mind

AC Milan game with fellow SUNY students Gaby, and Yvonne

AC Milan game with fellow SUNY students Gaby and Yvonne

So the truth is: I have been meaning to write this post for a while now, but the rush back into reality got in the way.

11048267_10153392746133921_7202297963475849159_nLet me start by summarizing where we left off from my last blog.  The last thing I wrote about was my performance in my dramaturgy class for our final exam.  Since then I completed my last finals of college.  Since then I have also received my grades for my final semester of college:  For the first time ever I received straight ‘A’s (minus the one class I took S/U in which I received an ‘S’).  I take a lot of pride in these grades, considering this was my final college semester, and this was a first for me.   I ended college with a bang, and I do believe my GPA will thank me.  This also means I am (almost) a college graduate.  We are hoping that my grades are received in time for me to graduate in August.

Teatro alla Scala

Teatro alla Scala

23!

23!

Beyond academics I also attended my first AC Milan football game, something I wanted to do all semester!  I saw my first ever opera at La Scala, another place I was hoping to get to before the semester’s end.  I celebrated my 23rd birthday.  I also made sure to be a complete and total tourist in my own city.  It took almost leaving Milan for me to push myself to do all of the things I had been eager to do for months but hadn’t yet.  I created a Milan bucket list, full of things I had never done and things I needed to do one last time before departing.  I am very content with the results of my bucket list.

Greetings from the Highlands in Scotland

Greetings from the Highlands in Scotland

My final days abroad, I used the remainder of my bravery to travel alone to Scotland, the Amalfi Coast, Florence (again), and Sicily.  I traveled alone for two entire weeks, before returning back to Milan for my final day abroad, in order to see the World Expo.  The theme of this year’s Expo, held in Milan from late May through October, is “Feeding the Planet; Energy for Life.”  All year it was hyped up to us: “What a blessing it is, and how lucky we students are to have this event in our backyard.”  I truly cannot agree more.  This, for those who still have the opportunity to check out the Expo, is a must see!

Channeling my inner Angolan fisherman at the world expo

Channeling my inner Angolan fisherman at the World Expo

Since then I have returned to the United States for a slap in the face by reality’s hand.  I miss Milan more than I could ever have imagined!  But the truth is I know this is: a) a good sign and b) completely normal.   I miss Milan so much because of the amazing time I spent there.  I do not take that magical place, any of my travels, friends, school, food, or anything else about my study abroad life for granted.  Studying at Universita Catollica del Sacro Cuore made Milan my home.  I find it funny that I miss Milan so much that I even miss the bad stuff!  I remember when my friend Stephanie warned me after my post about adjusting that “Just you wait!   You will go home and be missing the negative aspects, too.  You learn to take them with a grain of salt and miss it all.”  She’s right.

Positano Beach!

Positano Beach!

Staff Orientation with my high school buddy, Evan

Staff Orientation with my high school buddy, Evan

Arriving home, I truly hit the ground running.  There is never really a free moment; hence, the last blog only now.  My adjustment has been rough.  I haven’t really had downtime.  I came home, immediately got sick with a cold, successfully completed a very challenging juice cleanse, and started work.  I am working this summer as a head counselor of five year olds at The JCC Pearl River day camp.  The job is proving to be one of my greatest challenges to date.  Beyond this I am back living at home now, with the summer addition of my pregnant sister, meaning there are 4.5 of us living in one NYC apartment.  Makes sense I’m having a rough transition back to America.  I am lucky to have a support system at home, but nobody can ever really understand my situation because my situation is specific to me.  It is nice to be home, and sure I could not stay in Milan forever.  But to go back for even one day now would be the greatest gift ever.  I am the luckiest girl in the world to have been given this experience.  Although my heart remains in Milano, I hope to take some notes from my European adventures and make the most of my time here in the United States.

11401267_10153431658718921_3719835922191387212_nSo to Milano I say:  I must thank you for changing who I am as a person.  I can now truly say that my pledge sister Kimberly is correct when saying one changes via study abroad.  “Til next time Italy,” is all I can say.  I WILL be back! Just you wait and see.  Or, as my friend Heidi says, at the Study Abroad 10 Year Reunion 😉  What the future holds for me is a complete and utter mystery, and truth be told I am completely okay with that.  Because truth is what is life without a little mystery?”  But I will be sure to update any of those who remain interested in my future whereabouts.  And as I mentioned beforehand, Italy has not seen the last of me!

So my dear readers, if this is truly my last post, my final advice must be that you all follow your hearts and follow your dreams.  Go see the world; you will not regret it!  Ciao for now <3

Reunited with my Abba at JFK airport

Reunited with my Abba at JFK airport

Tamara

Palermo Cathedral, Sicily!

Palermo Cathedral, Sicily!

Je Suis un Petit Update

A brief overview of my eight days traveling:

SUNDAY:

Lauren and I left Huddersfield at around 1 pm, took a taxi to the Huddersfield train station where we took the train to Leeds, waited for the shuttle outside of the Leeds train station to take us to the Leeds/Bradford Airport, arrived WAY too early–there was literally NO line to pick up our tickets or to go through security. We waited for a few hours to board the plane, which is never fun. Once we had taken off, though, we landed in what felt like, and more or less was, no time at all. The flight to Paris took about an hour! Lauren and I met Sarah, who had flown in from Scotland and arrived about five hours before we did, at the airport. At this point, it was about 8:00, and we had to make our way, using public transportation and French directions, to the 3 Ducks Hostel in the Eiffel Tower area of Paris. This was, in short, unsuccessful. We took the Metro a few stops to where we were supposed to catch our connecting train, which was not running due to the strikes. Finally, we caught a taxi outside the train station which took us to our hostel, and, thanks to our friendly driver, past the Eiffel Tower and Arch du Triumph. After checking in and putting our bags down in our tiny little 10-person room, inside of which all seven of our other roommates were already asleep, we searched the area for somewhere to eat. All we could find was a little cafe that was still serving the smaller food items on its menu. I was happy enough with this, but Sarah and Lauren, ever the picky eaters, watched me eat my baguette with chevre before we left to go to the 24-hour McDonalds. At least I’m able to say that my first meal in France was actually French!

After our meal, we walked back to the hostel and crashed. Our room was insanely hot that night. It reminded me of New Paltz dorms in the summer, when I wake up several times during the night because I literally cannot breathe. That was great.

MONDAY:

Our first full day in Paris was a long one. We woke up at about 9 and left the hostel at 10. We got coffee at a brasserie just a block from our hostel and made our way over, by foot, to the Eiffel Tower. As I mentioned in my last entry (or maybe my two last entries), I went to Paris (and London) with my dad and stepmom when I was 11 and have already seen the Eiffel Tower–but I did NOT remember it being anywhere near as big as it is. Despite our being New Yorkers, the three of us were really in awe. After taking pictures of the Tower, pictures of each other with the Tower, and pictures of each other taking pictures of the Tower, we walked past the Ecole Militare, or Military School, which was, even to a staunch pacifist, incredible. We walked around the outside of the Hotel Invalides (I’m still not sure how that’s pronounced–we called it the “Invalid” in over-Americanized accents the entire time), which is a beautiful building with a huge gold dome that can be seen from quite far away, and is where Napolean’s tomb is located. We then sat down in the adjacent Jardin du Luxembourg, the most wonderful-smelling garden ever, probably. We got lunch at a lovely little restaurant called Au Chien Qui Fume, literally “To the Dog Who Smokes”. I translated the name of the restaurant myself, based on the Latin and Spanish I know, and when Lauren, who knows a bit of French, validated my translation, I exclaimed “I’M SO SMART!” in excitement. Sarah and I both ordered croques, which are big pieces of bread with melted gruyere cheese, spices, tomatoes (I think) and a sunny-side-up egg. This might have been the best meal I had in Paris. Sarah and I split a caraffe of white wine, and felt tres Parisienne. Au Chien Qui Fume even had a little corner with a counter guarding a wall of cigarettes, in true Amelie fashion. We then wandered our way over to and across the Seine and into Notre Dame. I remembered the cathedral surprisingly well, but was certainly more struck by its beauty this time. It’s amazing how a few years, well, nine, can allow you to take in an entire city as if you’ve never seen it before. I was hoping this would happen, and it really did.

Finally, after walking literally about 15 miles (thank you, Lauren’s pedometer), we found our way to the metro and back to the hostel for a well-earned nap. When we got up, we picked a restaurant to eat dinner that looked nice, but whose wait-staff was anything BUT nice. When we entered the restaurant, the only English-speaking waiter, a 30-year-old man who would be a great subject for the game “European or Gay?” enthusiastically showed us to our table and told us to let him know if we needed any help translating the items on the menu. When we were ready to order, the man looked a bit insulted that Lauren and Sarah both ordered the “American Burger”, and even more insulted when we told him we would have water from the tap, and no wine (because the cheapest wine was something like 14 Euros, or about $20, per glass!) He slammed the pitcher of water on our table without even looking at us, and said nothing when he brought the food to our table. We ate silently, save for a few jokes about Parisian waiters and the distinct possibility that we might not make it out of the restaurant alive. When we asked for a dessert menu and decided we’d rather get pastries at a patisserie than pay 10 Euro for a scoop of ice cream, our waiter snatched the menus out of our hands and walked away in a huff. It seemed pretty clear that either he was telling the other customers that there was a table of rude American girls that he couldn’t wait to get rid of, or that we were becoming increasingly paranoid. We waited for the bill for about 20 minutes, positive that the waiter was ignoring us except for a few dirty looks every now and then, until we realized that we needed to pay for our meal at the counter. We paid, mostly in change, and left the restaurant as quickly as possible.

We decided that that night was the night we were going to be true Paris tourists and go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We walked over, but when we got in line to buy tickets, we learned that the ride to the top of the Tower stop at 10:30, after which, we could only get to the second floor. It was 10:45. As the Brits say, we were “gutted”! After being harassed by all 500 of the men selling mini Eiffel Towers within a 100-foot radius, we made our way over to a cafe with a great view of the Tower for dessert and coffee. Of course, this didn’t go smoothly either. The outside of the cafe was lined with patrons sitting in chairs, as are most cafes and brasseries in Paris. We decided we wanted to sit inside. After we ordered our dessert–Lauren got chocolate mousse and Sarah and I got coffee and asked to split creme brulee, we noticed a stray cat come into the cafe. The cat was adorable and was clearly a regular at the cafe, so we watched it do what looked like a little dance, cheerfully. The cat stopped dancing, though, and started pooping. In the cafe. Right next to us. We didn’t know how to react except to burst into a fit of laughter, not only at the cat, but at the day as a whole. When we finally alerted our waiter about the cat poop in the otherwise clean establishment, he gave us a cold look and shouted something in French to a younger waiter, who begrudgingly walked toward us with a mop. We relocated to an outside seat, which for some reason upset our waiter. At least the creme brulee well made up for a day of rude French waiters.

We walked back to our hostel and sat outside in the courtyard with other guests from places including Germany, Argentina, Brazil, and Buffalo, and talked until 2 am, which was quite nice.

TUESDAY:

Today was the day we were going to see the Louvre! We took the metro and walked around the outside of the Museum, not caring about the rain, because the buildings were beautiful and we’d be dry soon enough… or so we thought, until we discovered that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Great. So, we ventured forth and saw The Obelisque, some weird modern art, and a lot of fountains (can you tell I was thrilled to be walking in the rain on my poor, exhausted feet?) Once the rain had cleared up, we decided to walk along the Champs Elysees and to the Arch du Triumph, with some shopping on the way. This definitely made me feel better. We browsed in a few stores and got the chance to sit down, something we hadn’t had much of a chance to do the day before. We found ourselves in a store called Promod for an amazing two hours. It was well worth it though, as we were each quite pleased with our purchases. Of course, Sarah and I bought the same dress in different colors. Sarah and I are, most of the time, the same person. We walked the rest of the short distance to the Arch du Triumph and spent about 20 minutes looking at/in it.

Back to the hostel we went, and took another well-deserved nap. At this point, we noticed that three of the other girls in our room, who spoke a mystery language that sounded like a mix between Russian and French, had not left the room since we first got to Paris. Whenever we saw them, they were either sleeping or sitting in their beds, speaking their mystery language and eating baguettes. They also went to sleep for the night at about 9 every night.

After we got up, we had dinner, and walked, yet again, to the Eiffel Tower. On our way, we stopped to get crepes. We chatted with Harry the Crepe man for a good 15 minutes as he made our crepes–he was pretty hilarious and very Greek. I had a Nutella and banana crepe, which was WONDERFUL.

We bought our tickets and waited in line to go up to the top of the Tower. The elevator ride up was really cool, because you could see the metal pieces of the Tower and the lights around it. There were many levels of the Tower, and we looked around all but the very top one, mostly because Sarah was wearing a dress and the wind on the lower levels was not conducive to staying covered, so she would certainly not have had better luck on the top level. My favorite level was one that had the names of different cities encircling it, and each city was placed where the Tower faced it. It was so interesting! I really find geography fascinating, and being able to know that I was facing New York in one spot, and Sydney from just a few yards away, seemed to put a lot of things into perspective, somehow.

WEDNESDAY:

Today was the REAL day of the Louvre. To be up front, I’m not the hugest fan of art museums. I wish I were, but I never really was great at “understanding art”. I can only handle so much before I get bored. Luckily, since Sarah and I are the same person, she feels the same way. Sarah and I wandered around the museum at our own pace, looking at French, Spanish, British, Egyptian, Greek, and African art for about three hours. Some of it was quite interesting, but we did eventually decide that sitting down with coffee was more appealing than seeing the rest of the museum. Shortly after that, Lauren, who had sped through almost the entire museum, seeing everything she could manage, met up with us, and we headed back to the hostel. After what had become our gratuitous nap, we got dinner at Le Shanghai, because how could we not? That was an experience in itself, as the man behind the counter did not speak English. Another man who may or may not have worked there was able to loosely translate for us, and finally I was told what food was vegetarian. We ate inside the shabby little place, thankful that we weren’t being served by Parisians. On the way back to the hostel, we stopped at a patisserie for eclairs, which was a wonderful decision. Once we got back, we changed in silence and darkness out of respect for the three sleeping, mystery-language-speaking roommates, and got ready for a night out. We took the metro to the Bastille area, where we were told we’d find lots of bars and nightclubs. Unfortunately, since it was a Wednesday, the nightclubs weren’t very busy. We found ourselves in a little bar with a lot of young Parisians who were standing around chatting with each other. We were graciously accepted by all the drunk Europeans who found us exotic. This made for a pretty hilarious night. At one point, I had a conversation with a Romanian man in Spanish, for which I was perhaps a bit too proud. The night was a lot of fun, and a great way to end the Paris half of our trip.

THURSDAY:

Our last morning in Paris, we decided it would only be appropriate to have a little picnic by the Eiffel Tower before heading to London. We stopped at La Fromagerie, just a couple of blocks from our hostel, which we’d been planning on visiting. Sarah and I got a big piece of a semi-stinky, creamy cheese. We got a baguette and grapes, and were all set. Our picnic was just as French as it sounded, except for the other group of American girls having a picnic at the Eiffel Tower, who were rather overzealous with taking pictures with a bottle of champagne they bought from some man selling bottle of champagne to stupid Americans picnicing by the Eiffel Tower. In our wisdom, we did not partake. After our picnic, we went back to the hostel, got our bags, and headed to the airport.

Our flight took about five seconds, but by the time we FINALLY found our hostel, we were exhausted and starving and generally cranky. The hostel was situated in Zone 1 of London, which is the central part, in a Middle Eastern neighborhood. We searched for blocks for an inexpensive-yet-suitable-for-picky-eaters-and-vegetarians eatery of any kind. We found one, which was called Pizza and Chicken, and stuffed our faces with pizza and chicken, silent except when we said “No!” to a 12-year-old boy who offered to sell us pot. Welcome to London!
We walked back to the hostel and completely crashed.

FRIDAY:

On Friday, Sarah and I went to the Tower of London. Lauren didn’t join us because she went to London the week before with a friend who was visiting from home, and she’d already seen the Tower, and didn’t want to pay for it again. London Tower was great! We got a tour from a “Yeoman” who Sarah and I decided to name Yeoman Yellington. He gave us an in-depth and hilarious history of the Tower. I wish history were actually taught to be interesting in school, because it’s rare that I’ll be fascinated by a history class, even though I know it is inarguably important, and I do enjoy it when it’s not being taught to prepare me for a test. Sarah and I explored many of the buildings (and gift shops) and saw the Crown Jewels. After a few hours, we met up with Lauren. We walked along the Thames, past London Bridge, which was surprisingly disappointing, over the much more beautiful Southwark Bridge, into the part of Shakespeare’s Globe that was still open for the day, then back over the Millennium Bridge, which was just weird.

We took the Underground back to our hostel and got ready to go out to dinner with Kirstie, a friend Sarah worked with at camp (Sarah works at the sleepaway camp I was a camper at from ages 8-15, and a staff member at when I was 16–we met when we were 14). It was definitely nice to meet someone who was a native of the place we were visiting and was helpful in telling us what to do and where to go. It was also nice to talk about camp, even though I’d never met her. We ate at a place whose name, Pizza Express, was a bit misleading, because it was a sit-down restaurant with great brick oven pizza and wonderful pasta dishes.

After dinner, we parted ways with Kirstie and went back to the hostel for an early night.

SATURDAY:

On Saturday, Lauren went to the London Zoo while Sarah and I met up with another friend of hers from camp, Jean. Sarah, Jean and I went to the British Library, where we saw the Magna Carta, and then over to the Thames where we went on the London Eye. Despite the long queue (line) and high price, the London Eye was great–we got amazing views of all points in London, and since it took about half an hour to go all the way around, we were really able to absorb it (and take an obscene amount of photos).

When we got off the Eye, the three of us went to one of the cute restaurants along the Thames, Wagamama’s, which served all different types of Asian food. Let’s just say my Vermicelli was a lot better than what I had at Le Shanghai. After we ate, we went back to the hostel and met up with Lauren. All of us, including Jean, who shared (stole) Sarah’s bed, took naps before getting ready to eat dinner and go out for the night.

We headed over to Camden Tower, a long strip of bars, restaurants, and clubs. We didn’t get there until about 9:30, so most places weren’t serving food anymore. This is where America comes in handy–we managed to find The Diner, serving “authentic American food”, whatever that means. We got (veggie) burgers and a few drinks before going out to the Electric Ballroom. We danced there for probably four or five hours. They played the craziest array of music I could imagine, from hip hop to songs from the Grease soundtrack to Cotton Eyed Joe–which was great, because Sarah and I were teaching the dance to many a British onlooker–to the Macarena to real Latin music, which we started a conga line to. SO much fun! We left at about 3 and took a taxi back to the hostel, which we snuck Jean into for the night.

SUNDAY:

In the morning, we said goodbye to Jean and took the Underground to Buckinham Palace for the Changing of the Guards. Frankly, I remembered it being more exciting. We left the Palace at about 12:30 and went to a pub for lunch. The rest of the day was mostly spent getting souvenirs and shopping in Camden Tower, which, during the day, is Camden Market, a cross between a huge flea market and St. Marks Place in Manhattan. After a few hours of shopping, the week caught up with us and we decided to make our last night a lazy, cozy one back in the hostel.

When we got back, we changed into pajamas, went downstairs into the bar/lounge area, drank tea, watched TV, and ordered Indian food. Honestly, it felt totally perfect. We went to bed at around 10 and actually got a real night’s sleep.

MONDAY:

On Monday morning, we packed up our stuff, left the hostel at about 10, got breakfast at Starbucks, and went to the Underground, where Lauren and I parted ways with Sarah, who had to catch a 12-hour bus back to Dundee from Victoria Station at noon.

Lauren and I got our train from the London Euston train station to Manchester, then the train from Manchester to Huddersfield. We walked into town where we caught the shuttle back to Storthes Hall, and FINALLY, we were home.

It’s funny, I’ve only been in Huddersfield for about a month and a half, but after a week of traveling, being back here feels so much like being back home. Maybe it’s because I actually have privacy and space and my own things here. I wonder what it’ll be like when it’s time to leave this home and go back to my Brooklyn home. I won’t even be in Brooklyn too long before it’s time to go back to my New Paltz home. What a strange, exciting age to be. I’m so glad I decided to study abroad, it’s already given me a greater appreciation for being away from home, and for what “home” really is.

Next stop, Scotland for Sarah’s birthday during the weekend of November 19th, then after that, Amsterdam from November 25-28th!

Pictures of this trip will follow shortly!

Adew Dundee

I find myself at home among my family and friends; sitting in a room that had been left relatively unchanged since I closed the door back in September. My wall space is covered with high school plaques for outstanding achievement in foreign languages and math (which still baffles me) as well as an acceptance award for Phi Alpha Theta that takes pride and center among all others. But I lack a plaque (or a piece of parchment) for the greatest award of all. This trip changed me in more ways than one and have returned a changed person. Whereas traveling internationally was a (excuse my pun) foreign concept before; it has now become commonplace and not only do I now have the confidence required to get to the next level in life, but also new issues and problems to test me. If this trip was a course;  the true final exam was my flight home. Physically, mentally and emotionally, it tested the skills I acquired throughout the semester and from start to finish was a memorable experience on its own.

The morning of the 20th proved to be a typical gray December day. I awoke from a long night of packing on the Dundee Law for what would be the final time. My room was as barren as when I had first walked in during Fresher’s Week which seemed almost like an eternity. Like traveling through space; time becomes relative when you’re living abroad. What occured between our moving in to our final days all blended in together in a giant mesh of a great “happening”. We not only went to class, we went to other countries; we made friends from towns and  countries we had heard of and many more from places less familiar. We went to The Union Monday through Sunday and made sure to have the best times of our lives every time and to centuries old castles and museums that stored the cultural identity of a people we had lived with and among. But all of that was at an end and; slowly but surely, we filed off like rugby players who had just played the last game of the season. Our Scottish flatmate Lauren was the first to leave. It was hard saying goodbye to the person who had turned from a name on an envelope to our closest friend and the one we went to to explain all the peculiarities of another culture we barely understood. It was hard to see her leave, to all of us (especially Julie and I), we knew we would’nt see her next semester and she us. “Keep me updated on EVERYTHING!” she said giving both of us a good-bye hug. You couldn’t tell at that time but we were all fighting back tears; “You better visit us” we yelled before she walked out the front door to which she replied “Don’t worry I will”; I’m still holding her to that promise.  Two days before I had dropped Julie off at the train station in Edinburgh where she would take the bus to the airport and her flight home. I refused to watch the bus pull away and pretended to trick myself into thinking it was just like any other day; but it wasn’t the same; I knew she wasn’t coming back to the flat. “This isn’t a ‘good-bye’, it’s an ‘until we meet again.’ ” she said to me before getting on the bus; I’d like to keep that as my final memory of our time together over there. When I got back later that day, Andy and Ashley wanted to go into town one last time to do some Christmas shopping; which was when it started to snow. “Unbelievable!” Ashley exclaimed as the three of us walked through the blanket of white slushy snow that covered every inch of ground. It was a strange feeling seeing snow in “The Sunniest City in Scotland”, especially after hearing of it snowing at home as early as October. It was on our walk back that Andy parted ways with us as he had a 930 pm flight out of Glasgow that evening. Out of the entire group of study abroad misfits I had befriended, Andy was the one whom I had known the longest. We first met him in the terminal at JFK back in September and his upbeat attitude and offbeat sense of humor helped me overcome my pre-flight jitters he was always a welcome part of all of our trips and parties. Now he was saying good-bye to us on a cold snowy day. It was a brief farewell but I think when you already have accepted the inevitable and know you will come across each other in the same country once more; a handshake and well wishes for a safe return is as good of a farewell as any. Ashley and Jon left the next morning; hoping to catch their early morning flights before the snow got worse. The night before, we bid them and emotional farewell. We were all upset but Sydney was more so. By spring she would be the loan Study Abroad student out of the group left and my heart broke when she and Katie parted ways. For the entire trip the two of them had been as close as Irn-Bru and HP sauce even though they had never met before. Their friendship best exemplified the study abroad experience to me; here were two people (one from Canada the other from North Carolina) who became fast friends and by the end of our 4 month sojourn would have appeared to have known each other for a lifetime to the casual observer. That was how we were and for our flaws and faults we will always remain close for the rest of our lives; even though geography keeps us apart.

It was almost 10 in the morning when Sydney walked into the kitchen to say farewell. I knew this was it but it was dreamlike, surreal. After this I would be the last person in the flat, the last one to close the door, the custodian of the final key to our adventure. We hugged one last time and all I could think of was when we first met at the Welcome booth at Edinburgh airport our first day. She was shy and somewhat tired from a summer of travelling around the UK with her family. We were both excited when it was discovered we’d be flatmates. By now the shy girl I had met at the airport had become the person that would always look out for everyone’s interests and I had become the complete opposite of the person that pensively waited for our bus to Dundee that chilly September day. After giving her boyfriend a hearty handshake and a fatherly “Take good care of her”, they walked out the door and I was left alone. Five minutes after they left; I became acquainted with a new sound, silence. At first it was not so bad; after all I was used to having an early morning breakfast before my classes and would spend nights of seclusion in my room working feverishly on an essay or studying for an exam; but this was different. Then I had the security to know that there was always someone in the room next door, now there was no one else but me and my inner thoughts. After finishing my lukewarm omelet and getting dressed, I did some last minute house cleaning. It was then I looked out to the southern view of the Law and Dundee and I did something that I held back the entire week; I cried. This had become more than a trip, it had become a second home. I loved the people here, they were friendly and helpful. The friends I made understood me and my odd music tastes; and today I was leaving that all behind, it was official; the adventure was over.

Two large rolling suitcases, one backpack and one laptop bag equated to almost four months of my life. Feverishly I checked and re-checked every corner of my room for things I might have left behind, subconsciously prolonging my stay for a few more minutes. By the 15th time I was ready to be on my way. Unlike everyone else, I had to carry all my bags without assistance, and it turned a 15 minute walk to the train-station into a super-human effort. The elevator was my final farwell “Ground Floor, Doors Opening” said the pre-recorded voice as I made an awkward exit into the courtyard of Belmont Flats. The snow didn’t make things easier, the cold was biting and went straight through 3 layers of clothing like a knife through butter. There wasnt much ceremony when I dropped off my keys; although I remembered to keep the Tesco member’s fob as a cheap momento. Twenty-five long minutes later I was at the train-station waiting for the 4:30 to Edinburgh after walking through the slippery and gray streets of Dundee. The train ride proved uneventful and it was unfortunate that it was too dark to see; I would have loved to see the countryside one last time.  An hour later I was back in Edinburgh and saw that the winter festival was in full swing. Lights flickered in the dark as silohuettes of couples kissed in the dark and the cheerful screams of children echoed as they rode the whirligig and the two story slide; it was beautiful but my mind was on getting to the airbus on time. Next thing I knew I was at the airport getting on the shuttle bus that took me to the hotel.

“Are ya moovin house then?” the driver asked to which I retorted “No, I’m escaping”.  It certainly felt like it. The weather had taken a turn for the worse and my luggage wasn’t making things any easier. Thankfully the hotel (The Quality Inn at Edinburgh Airport) was a short 10 minute drive from the main entrance. My flight was leaving at 9am the next day which prompted me to book a hotel for the previous night. for $100.00 I had a king size bed, a hot shower and a complimentary shuttle to and from the airport; I highly recommend booking this place if anyone plans to study overseas; its worth the money. When I shuffled into my room I had enough time to collect myself and give the ‘rents a call home “Hi it’s me, I’m at the hotel, yeah, yeah, no I should be good for tomorrow, the snow is coming down hard now but will be passing soon, see you in a few hours.” That was surreal; “I’ll see you in a few hours”, last time I saw my parents was walking through the checkpoint at JFK and we had been seperated by an ocean and several timezones; yet in 24 hours we would be re-united. Maybe adjusting to home life will be harder than I first thought. I took in my last episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks; fixed myself a cup of tea and tried to rest myself for a full day of traveling.

“Airports are finding it hard to keep with the weather as more and more flights are delayed and canceled.” was my morning alarm as the TV blared at 5:30 am. To my horror news was spreading of delays at airports around the UK, Europe and the US. The snow that had been blanketing Europe for the past week left many stranded in airports at Charles de Gaulle and Heathrow. The other day news of  the Eurostar disaster was making headlines around the world. In order to get home I would require a flight from Edinburgh to Paris where I would switch flights for JFK. I prayed for the weather to hold off and made my way to the airport. It being four days to Christmas, holiday music was piping in through the PA system in the main airport lounge. everywhere were students and travelers awaiting their flight numbers to be called with an anticipation similar to that of people watching the “Mega-Millions” drawing. “What if it’s cancelled?”, “Where do I go?”, “Will I get home in time?” were all things running through my head as I hoped my flight would arrive on time. While waiting I struck up a conversation with an archaeology student at Edinburgh waiting for the same flight as me, but her accent was strange, “You shouldn’t worry too much, sounds like you don’t live far” I said; “Well I’m from Southampton (England) but live in Rhode Island” she responded. Not that I’m close minded or anything but I had always clearly defined an “American” based on accents and language, but by now that barrier had been smashed and I by this time had slowly seen myself as a British citizen despite my background and language. The magic sign then gave up its secrets “Gate 9” and I was off to the next stage.

After checking in my bags I wandered over to customer service to pay the excess baggage fee. There I met more students from the US and Canada flying with KLM. Unlike me they were going through Amsterdam to the US but they had the unfortunate luck of having all of their flights canceled on account of the weather. “What are we supposed to do?”, “Keep calling” was customer service’s only response. I felt sorry for them and at the same time fortunate that I was good to go with my flight. I had gotten texts the day before from Ashley saying her flight was delayed 8 hours and Jon’s was canceled; both flying out of Edinburgh, so you could consider the 20 min delay of my flight a blessing.

While I was waiting for my flight; I talked to a scottish woman who was sitting next to me in the gate. She had just gotten engaged to her boyfriend who was living in New Jersey and was on her way to see him. I asked if she planned on moving to the U.S. eventually and she responded with a similar enthusiasm I had when I thought about similar prospects in the UK. She loved New York City, and found America exciting and new. It was as if I was looking at myself from 4 months ago; excited about living in a new country and ready to be emersed in another culture.

As the plane taxied off the runway I tried to get a parting shot of Scotland; much to the discomfort of the old people who had the middle and window seats. They had no clue at all what I’ve been through, where I’ve been, what I’ve seen. Several seconds later we were taking off and I saw faces, cars and buildings become smaller until they were unrecognizable forms. 

We arrived in Paris a half hour off schedule; but I made the most of it by sneaking a peak at the Eiffel Tower from my window. Charles De Gaulle is one of the most confusing airports I had ever been in and is on par with JFK for being the most difficult to get around. Because we were late; our plane landed just outside the main terminal and a bus needed to come to pick us up. After that I had to find out where my gate was. the ticket said 72; but I was left walking around in circles; do the French enjoy confusing other people? Eventually I figured out that you have to take a monorail (yes a monorail) to the gate! Security didnt help make things easier either “parle’ vous Anglais?” was met with a stern “Non!” and the woman was asking me for something in French I had no clue what the word was. I pulled out my boarding pass in a fit of frustration and apparently that was what she needed. So much for 4 years of high school French!

The last leg of my journey went off without a hitch, although I have to say it was filled with its own peculiarities. Behind me sat a Brit with his two children on their way to visit family in New York and the habit of the Air France attendant giving the same speach in French, English and Spanish really hit home how big the world really is and how diverse the human race is.

My journey culminated with viewing the shining lights of New York City; the same ones I saw as we took off for Europe all those months ago. When we landed I was eager to jump off the plane and finally see my parents. Although I considered my time in the UK the best of my life; it felt good to walk through the US Citizen passport check at security and look at all the international arrivals across the hall “Where are you from?” said the security guard “Here, I mean New York” I said awkwardly; coming out of jetlag and travelling for a full 24 hours hadn’t helped my logic none “Where’ve you come from?”, “Dundee, Scotland”, “Study Abroad?”, “You bet”, “Welcome Back”. I waited expectantly for my bags and slowly got used to hearing american accents again. 15 minutes later I was good to go and walked through the meet and greet gate. At first I noticed the sea of people waiting to be reunited with their friends and family and then saw my mom race across the aisle and give me one of the tightest hugs I had ever recieved with my dad in hot pursuit. “Welcome home son” he said to me, “It’s good to be home pa, but you don’t know where I’ve been”.

Epilogue:

Our other friend Katie finally left for the US the day after me; and as far as I’m aware is safe with her family in North Carolina. Jen’s family came to visit her around the time I left and they celebrated a memorable Christmas in Scotland and Ireland. Laura was the last of us to leave; her Ukranian flatmate invited her to spend Christmas with her family and she finally came home around January 9 or 10. Julie, Andy, Ashley and Jon all arrived home in one piece; delayed or not. Sydney was still in London’s Heathrow for several days before she finally made it back to Vancouver. We all plan to reunite either over the summer or within the year.