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10 days.

10 days + 7 flights + 6 students + 5 cities + 4 countries

This was by far one of the best weeks of my life. Maybe the travel bug has bitten me or maybe I’m a little more adventurous than the rest, but I hope this adventure never ends. It takes a certain type of person to study abroad and I think that’s why it was so easy to make friends here, we share so many similar qualities (minus the gender 7:1 girl to guy ratio). We have unsettled spirits, are curious, love new cultures, and we all got on the plane.

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One of the lessons I’ve learned that will stick with me for a long while is that it’s not really important where you are as long as you have good people sharing the memories with you.

Places are just places without people to experience them with.

Friendships abroad are unique, different than at school or wherever home is for you. They are fast to form, driven by adventure, non-judgmental, and well worth a decent goodbye at the end of the semester filled with what I assume will be many tears – friends for a lifetime.

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fam.

Over spring break I spent ten days with some pretty crazy but pretty wonderful people. I don’t know how but we ended up in the coldest places for the week. (And by I don’t know I mean I take full responsibility because I was the one of the people that planned the trip.) 1. Stockholm, Sweden. 2. Copenhagen, Denmark. 3. Budapest, Hungary. 4+5. Athens + Crete, Greece. We didn’t hit the cities at the right time, but when you are given a spring break, do what you have to in order to see as many new things as you can.

Surprise. None of the cities were what I was expecting. What I’ve learned is that having expectations is overrated, either way you’ll be disappointed. If it’s what you expected then it’s not new enough. If it’s not what you expected it can take you off guard. Go in with no expectations and you’ll never be disappointed – everything will just be new and different.

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ancient meets new.

Overstimulation. That’s probably the best word I can use to describe the experience. If I hadn’t brought my camera I don’t think I would remember anything. A week felt like a month and by the end of the trip I didn’t know what day it was or how long it had been since we left Rome.

The one thing I always knew was that I was not alone. When I was exhausted, hungry, irritated, lost, or ecstatic I knew I had people with me. I shared all those moments with people who understood me. We may have snapped at each other sometimes or shared moments of complete awe and admiration, but we arrived on the other side together. We may not have all had the same perspective, but to an extent we understand this experience like no one else will.

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sunny snow capped mountains

We are about to split ways in roughly two weeks. I don’t even want to count the days because I know they are too few. When we go home everyone will ask us the same questions: how was it? favorite place? favorite food? least favorite place? I know I will spend hours explaining the same thing and I’m ok with that because it’ll give me a moment to reflect and live in the nostalgia for a bit, but I also know that they won’t be able to fully understand what I’ve seen and experienced. It’s something I want to share, but don’t know if I can. I am the same person as when I left, but I’ve also changed – I’ve become more of who I am, more comfortable in my own skin. Sure I’ve done some dumb things, but I also think I’ve made some great steps forward in being a human being. I’m living in imperfection and recognizing where my identity comes from – and it’s not anything of this world.

You don’t have to go to a different country to learn these things. Like I said, it’s not really about the places. Sure it’s cool to go to Sweden and Greece, but without meeting people and making new connections what’s the point. People will always make the places otherwise you’re gonna walk through life looking at a lot of pretty buildings and that’s about it.

Go somewhere new.

It may be in your town or city of 1000 or 100 thousand people, but go somewhere you’ve never been. Do something that scares you and do something you’ve never done before. It could be baking a cake! Or it could be going skydiving or going to Europe, but do something. Live a little – or a lot. You will always have regrets in life, but don’t let it be never doing.

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“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

 

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The Worried Well

I heard my dad call my hometown “The Worried Well” for the first time the other day. As he explained I realized there was some truth to it. I grew up in a privileged area with a lot of wealthy families and a high school almost as big as the university I attend. Everyone seems well off, but in reality the smallest thing can wreck people’s mental health.

Here’s the theory. Everyone is so caught up in making a good living and maintaining this well-to-do image, the smallest things cause them to worry so much they might as well be stuck in a 100 feet deep cylindrical stone shaft – also known as a well.

The new fabric for the couch becomes the focus of every conversation and holds so much weight you would think that someone was donating bone marrow. In truth the reason so much weight is put on these items is because “appearances are important.” That’s what all of it comes down to. Who can live the American Dream the best? Of course I’m no exception. I fell into this cycle myself in high school and focused on only what I was doing and how I looked to other people. What positions could I get on x or y clubs and how many people knew who I was? This wasn’t just a condition parents had it was engrained in us as people in this system. There are also some people that cared so much about helping others that the stay-at-home mom became an angel swooping in to try and end world hunger, taking on every task she could to be there for her family, the school, the town, the country, and don’t forget world peace. For arguments sake, let’s put these people to the side for a moment.

It sounds like I’m being harsh on my hometown and to a degree I am, but I will always have my hometown pride. I learned a lot from this community and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it. I learned the value of true friendship, that unfortunately appearances do hold weight, that politics bleed into everything, but most important I learned how to give grace and forgiveness to others and myself. They say it is a dog eat dog world out there, so I choose to be a giraffe – a horse of a different color. I don’t have to play the game, and neither do you.

The Worry Well doesn’t just apply to the town I grew up in. We get so caught up in such miniscule things that we can’t see the big picture, or we look at the big picture so much that we can’t see what’s right in front of us. There’s a balance you see that no one quite gets. Without love and relationship where would we be? Some day I’m going to come to the gates of heaven and if all I have to bring is the swatch of fabric from my couch, well… I don’t even know what will happen in that case. What’s important is the soul. Soul making, not soul faking. We may be able to pretend with our neighbors and even our families, but we can’t do that with God.

Maybe we focus on our outfit choices or hair color and freak out at minor incidences because we’re control freaks. Maybe all the worry comes from not trusting God. If you feel like the rest of your life is spinning out of control, then yeah I’d be spending hours upon hours picking out furniture. That’s where a lot of eating disorders, OCD, and other illnesses come from – trying to gain control in just one area of your life. People like to be in control of their own lives, or at least feel like they are. When the smallest thing goes out of focus, we hyperventilate because we have a delusion that we dictate our lives – In my opinion that sounds like a lot of work. Can you imagine trying to control every aspect of every situation down to timing, location, people, and conversation – sounds exhausting and impossible. We can’t control other people, and it’s hard enough for me to control my own weirdness on a daily basis and waking up at a decent hour so I don’t think I can handle controlling how other people act.

Control and trust. If you have problems with one you’ll likely have problems with the other. If you think they’re unrelated you are probably in denial. If you’re saying oh yeah I get that, but I’m different this is from my childhood and its just part of my DNA I think you need to take another look. I know many people have already made their new years resolutions, but I’d like to propose another. What if we spent this year trying to learn more about ourselves and figure out why we are who we are? Rather than blaming our odd ticks on our childhood, why don’t we figure out what moment changed our behavior or what reoccurring action made us so insecure, angry, or passive. Self-awareness is one of the most beneficial things, and I think it gives us some control back and even identity. Instead of flying off the handle or overreacting or having the urge to run we may be able to see a situation and know how we are going to react, and know why. It’s frustrating not knowing why we get so quiet around the underdog or break down when someone gives us constructive criticism. I said before that last semester was hard, so let’s help ourselves out a little and instead of trying to change ourselves this year we could try to discover more about ourselves. The first step is admitting there is a problem, is it not?