Monday, February 8, 2016

Goodbye, Hello, and brb

It's been a while since I sat down and wrote a blog. Almost a month, in fact. But as I've said before, you kind of get caught up in life when you're studying abroad. At home, everything is familiar and, in a way, kind of mundane, and that doesn't happen when you're abroad. Unfortunately, I've also had more than my fair share of issues during the past month or so, ranging from academic to personal. I won't bore anyone with that; instead, I'll jump right into the interesting stuff!

Shortly after I returned from Prague, the day I'd been dreading arrived: the day everyone who was only staying for a semester left. The final days were spent clinging to one another and the precious but very little time we still had together. I could feel cracks in my heart forming as The Day approached. Goodnight hugs got a increasingly longer and tighter every night. We all knew it was coming, but no one dared talk about it out loud, as if ignoring it would somehow not make it happen at all. Instead, we spent hours each night gathered around a table and retelling stories from the previous five months. We told the feelgood stories that left everyone with that pleasant, warm-fuzzy feeling in their hearts and the embarrassing stories that always inevitably left someone at the table a peculiar shade of red, which was sometimes funnier than the story itself. Truly, we talked about everything other than everyone's departures, which we just left to be the massive elephant in the room. Somehow, it hurt less that way.

They say home is where the heart is
so be careful with my heart, friends.
Then time finally slipped through our fingertips and everyone was heading off to the airports, overweight luggage and a lifetime's worth of memories in tow. I accompanied three people to Arlanda Airport: my (now former) roommate Valentine, Ana - who I've mentioned a few times already in previous posts, and Kevin, the best Swiss guy around. Even at the airport, we talked around the subject of them leaving. We poked fun at Valentine and Ana's overweight baggage and referred to inside jokes. Ana and I even made friends with a Spanish guy standing in the baggage drop line behind us. Right before I left them all at airport security, we shared exceptionally long hugs, but I still didn't feel like goodbye. I promised everyone I'd come visit them in their home countries and reminded them that I loved them, then I watched as they walked past the metal detectors then disappeared into the airport to find their gates. I didn't cry. My heart was heavy, but it still didn't seem real yet. I took the bus back to the train station then began the hourlong train ride back to Björnkulla. I was listening to my usual Spotify playlist, but I kept skipping tracks; every song reminded me of
Note to self.
someone that I'd just left behind. It wasn't until Ana texted me from the airport and we exchanged words and feelings as to just how much we loved and meant to one another that I started crying. And when I started crying, it was full-blown ugly sobbing. I think I terrified the poor unsuspecting guy sitting beside me. I cried all the way to my train stop then held it together long enough to walk home, where I returned to my empty room and cried some more. I always thought that you experienced heartbreak in romantic relationships. It wasn't until then that I realised heartbreak comes in all shapes and sizes and that I hadn't just been heartbroken - I'd had my heart shattered.

Not everyone left me! Arnaud, Lilli, and a few
others stayed behind for a second semester!
Just a few days later, we had new people arriving! I still had a heavy heart thanks to the people that had left me so recently, but it was exciting nonetheless. We were eager to meet everyone, so we put together a welcome gathering the night most people were scheduled to arrive. To our surprise, a lot of people showed up! Suddenly, I had the same feeling I did when I'd arrived in August. It was a
whirlwind of new names, new nationalities, new everything. All in all, it was a great night, and I knew right away I'd just met some incredible people.

The next few days were dedicated to meeting everyone and remembering everyone's names. Something no one tells you before you go abroad is that it's easy to remember nationalities, but remembering names is nothing short of a miracle. Every time you see someone and remember their
names, you give yourself a mental high five, but when you can't remember their name, you frantically text the person next to you asking for their name and pray they know. I think, at last, I've mastered everyone's (or almost everyone's) names. Hey, it only took three weeks.

As I said in a previous paragraph, being with the new exchange students reminded me of when I had first arrived. It's almost like a cycle; you meet everyone, you're overwhelmed by the sheer number of people and names and personalities you're encountering all at once, and you all gather every night and sit around a kitchen table that technically isn't big enough for such a crowd and you laugh and
talk and play games until the sun starts coming up, then the next night you do it again. The more time you spend with everyone, the more they begin to feel like family. Almost immediately, I found someone I trusted more than anyone, and he is a constant source of sunshine and happiness in my life. I didn't know I needed a person like him until he saved me from myself like the saviour he is.

It sounds dramatic. It all sounds dramatic. I know that. But 1) I'm a dramatic person 2) it's true anyway so haters to the left. ♥

One thing I appreciate about all the new arrivals is that I'm having the opportunity to fall in love with Stockholm all over again. When you're here for so long, you kind of forget just how incredible of a
city it is. Stockholm is beautiful. Stockholm is breathtakingly beautiful, and I'm proud to call it my home. We took a guided bus tour of the city one day, and suddenly I was once again in awe of the Nordic architecture and beautiful landscapes Stockholm boasts. It's inspired me to begin doing some adventuring around the city again. There are so many wonders in Stockholm itself that are still left to uncover, and I'm determined to dig up as many as possible!

Almost immediately, everyone started talking about how we should take a cruise somewhere. If you can recall, we did the same thing last semester. As you may also remember, I slept through the part of the cruise where we were on land.  It happens, okay? We soon decided that a cruise to Tallinn, Estonia was in order. Last semester, I visited Tallinn, and visiting the Baltic States is something that was on my study abroad bucket list, so this was a dream come true. I actually shed a few tears while I was ashore during that trip. Did you forget why? I wrote all about it in my blog post about Estonia and Halloween! Shameless self promos all over the place.

Anyway, even though I would have loved to go to Estonia again, another place was calling my name: London, England.


I successfully peer pressured Lilli into coming along with me, and we went off to London on Wednesday evening! The flight there was pretty easygoing, but we were put to an immediate halt at customs. England has a very, very restrictive border, especially for non-EU citizens. So while it only took Lilli 15 minutes to get through customs, it took me over an hour. I got asked everything from why I was in London to why I was in Europe at all and when I would be returning to the United States. That much grilling was entirely unnecessary.

But finally, I got through, then we took a bus into the city, where we met up with Jenna, a friend of mine who visited Sweden last semester (and the same friend that I went to Tallinn with!). She helped us buy our public transport cards then took us out to pizza before we parted ways and we were left to find our Airbnb.

That in itself took another hour and a half and a miracle, but we finally found the place a little past midnight and immediately collapsed in bed. As excited as I was about being in London (!!!), I was also really, really sick, and that kind of put a damper on things. And when I say really, really sick, I mean really, really, really sick. I had no business being anywhere other than in bed awaiting the cold embrace of death, but when London calls, you don't say no.

So despite my sickness, I sucked it up and explored London. We did all the fun, touristy stuff, such as
Tower Bridge
visiting the London Tower and Tower Bridge. The Tower Bridge is beautiful! I loved the aquamarine suspensions; that splash of colour was so much fun! The architecture itself was something absolutely admirable. I'm such a sucker for architecture. I talk and think about it way more than any 20 year old non-architecture student should. But will I stop? Absolutely not - there is too much architecture left to be admired.

Big Ben & London Eye
Obviously, we also visited Big Ben! We kept hearing that Big Ben is even more beautiful in person than in photos, and we had to see for ourselves. Turns out, this is a completely accurate statement. I ended up taking about 50 photos of Big Ben, and none of them can compare to how beautiful it is to see in person. Additionally, we went up in the London Eye, and we go a bird's eye view of all of London! Obviously, London is a beautiful city, but it's even more beautiful when you have a 360-degree, bird's eye view of it. I'll never forget how beautiful the city looked from so high up. Even though it was expensive to go on the London Eye, it was worth every penny and more.

Have I mentioned yet that I met One Direction? Because that was a thing.

Just me and 1D. nbd!!!
Okay, maybe not the One Direction, but their identical wax figures! We went to Madame Tussauds, which is the world-famous wax museum, and One Direction was still on display! It was super exciting, because their wax figures was part of the reason why I agreed to go in the first place. Of course, there were plenty of other great wax figures! Some of my favourites (other than One Direction, of course) were Vincent van Gogh, Aishwarya Rai, and Captain America. And the best part is that they really do look like their real-life counterparts, which was something I was skeptical of going in.

Out of all these things, my favourite thing was the Victoria and Albert Museum, which I wouldn't have even gone to if Jenna hadn't suggested it to us! It's seriously one of the most massive museums I've ever been to, and we only covered the first floor. It included exhibits about Europe during the 1600s-1800s, fashion throughout history, and lots about religions (which is one of my favourite subjects ever). I completely forgot to take photos while we were there because I was so absorbed in
all of the history. Like I said, we only covered the first floor, and, if I recall correctly, there are five floors. So obviously I have to go back and discover all the museum has to offer! But I loved the museum that I paid $10 for a tote bag with the logo on it. Talk about dedication.

I think that about sums up the past month. It was full of heartbreaking goodbyes, heartfelt hellos, and plenty of adventuring! So lots of highs and lows and everything in between. Just when life begins to feel dull, it throws me for a loop just to shake things up (and thank god for that; I would hate for life to feel boring). I'm still sick, but once I get to feeling better, I can't wait to get to exploring Stockholm - maybe I'm a little late in doing so, but better late than never, right?

- Lee

London and Stockholm are both beautiful in their own way ♥