I’ve been in Europe for 97 days. Ninety-Seven. 97.
That number makes me stop in my tracks. Ninety-seven is a lot of days. That’s 97 nights of sleep in over 15 different beds and hotels. For 97 days, I’ve eaten out at least 2 meals a day. I’ve had 97 days to juggled sightseeing and schoolwork and sleep. I’ve had 97 days of adventure and joy and excitement. In these 97 days, I’ve experienced summer, fall, and winter. I’ve been to 11 different countries and 42 different cities. I’ve been blessed with an infinite number of opportunities these past 97 days, opportunities to deepen friendships, to learn new and challenging things about myself, and to see history come alive. I’ve been in a constant state of learning for 97 days. We learn in the classroom, yes, but most of the real learning happens on the street, in restaurants trying to communicate in different languages, in hotel rooms with different roommates, and inside my head, processing all of my experiences in overdrive. I have 10 more joyous days of new cities and new countries (and even a new continent! Weekend trip to Morocco, anyone?) before I head back to the US of A. But, what happens then?
I've been thinking a lot about stories lately, and how I will tell my story. How will I find the right words to give these stories the justice they deserve? My stories deserve to be told, I’m just not quite sure how to do that.
What’s it going to be like when we all go home in less than 2 weeks? No more new cities or churches to explore, no group dinners or long travel days, no more counting off one to forty to make sure everyone’s present and accounted for. My new normal will become a way of the past, and I’ll have to adjust to life without the 39 travel companions I’ve spent every minute of the last 97 days with. There is uncertainty as to what re-entry holds for each of us, but there are also an equal number of certainties on the horizon.
I know what it will be like when we all part ways in LAX on December 8th. I’ll watch the joyful reunions of my EuroSem friends with their families before hopping on one more plane homeward bound. Southwest will get me safely to Sacramento International Airport, where I’ll give my parents the biggest hugs I’ve ever given them in my entire life. I’ll spend the next weeks catching them up on my semester, narrating my pictures country by country and re-living the semester in hindsight, from my couch in suburban El Dorado Hills. I’ll wear big sweatpants and sweatshirts, thankful for a seemingly new wardrobe that doesn’t have to fit in Arnold, my trusty suitcase. I’ll sleep soundly in my own bed and eat vegetables and bake pumpkin bread and walk my dog, thankful for the trusty rhythm of home life. I’ll do all of the normal holiday traditions with a special gusto this year. This Christmas, this break, is going to be a little sweeter, a little more sentimental, because of the adventures I’ve had and the miles I’ve traveled these past months.
You see, Europe Semester is an odd mix of luxury, glorified camping, and migrant life. We eat three course meals whenever we go out for group dinners. I took bubble baths in Prague but skipped out on showers for a few days during our stretch of hostel accommodations in Austria and Switzerland. We ate the world’s best buttery croissants in Haarlem and found great joy in making ourselves omelets and eggs on their breakfast griddle. In Bayeux and Interlaken, on the other hand, we were content with cornflakes and a slice of bread for breakfast.
Every few days, we squeeze everything back into our suitcases for a long day on the coach to a new destination. We pay for tap water and we pay to use the bathroom. We eat döner kebabs or pitch in for a cheap picnic to save our per diem to pay for postcards and chocolate and new clothes at H & M when we’re sick of what we packed. We squeeze five people into tiny hostel rooms with communal floor bathrooms one week and spread all of our stuff out in spacious apartments the next. You never know what the next few days might hold. Sometimes the rooms are extravagant and spacious, and sometimes you have to carry your 50-pound suitcase up five flights of stairs. When life is easy and straightforward, we say thank you. When life is challenging, we adapt and we grow, taking the situation in stride and experiencing another part of Europe together. We’ve been living this beautiful, unique lifestyle for 97 days.
Europe is showing me what it means to craft a way of being that makes life workable and sweet, even if just for a little while. I won’t live my whole life traveling through Europe, but I’m doing it right now, and I’m learning to do it well. Cheers to 10 more days of migrant life. Cheers to the holidays, to life at home, and to a new semester at Westmont come January.
I’ve been meaning to write four or five blog posts, but somehow time’s gotten away from me these last few weeks. Stay tuned for pics from Spain and Morocco! A late Happy Thanksgiving and a heartfelt good night, dear friends.