Don’t Stop Me Now

Did you know that only 37 percent of Americans have a passport? I believe it. My Dad will be 55 this December and he has never had a passport. He wanted to come to visit me in Glasgow, but when I asked him if he had a passport he said “oh, well I guess I don’t”. He’s never left America. Obviously, if he had more opportunities to travel abroad he would, but the man works in Construction and has traveled around America for work more times than I can count. In America, you don’t need a passport to see a lot. You want to see a beach? Go to California or Florida. You want to see incredible mountains, forests, and rivers? Go to Colorado or Montana. Big cities? New York and Chicago. Tropical honeymoon? Hawaii or Puerto Rico. Even for a snowy wilderness trip, you can head on up to Alaska. America sees a lot. It doesn’t have the history of France or Italy but it has so much beauty and ecological diversity within the country. Europe is different. Obviously, America is a huge country giving it advantages but in Europe, you take a vacation to London or Morocco and that is the equivalent of a Spring Break in San Diego or Miami. We are taking advantage of this while living in Scotland. For Halloween, I took an overnight bus to London to stay for four days and last weekend my best friend and I flew to Iceland for a weekend. Here is a little about the experiences.

London, England

My best friend’s boyfriend is studying abroad in London, so we decided to visit for Halloween weekend. We went to all of the amazing London sights including Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Big Ben, Borough Market, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, etc. I don’t think I have a favorite spot, they were all so incredible and beautiful. We ate amazing Indian food on our third night in London. To my surprise, Indian food is the most popular type of takeout in the UK. It was the best butter chicken and Indian cuisine I have ever had. I highly recommend trying Indian food in the UK even if you aren’t a huge fan of that type of food. It was delicious. We also ate at chipotle during our time in London. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss some of my favorite food chains from home like Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A, Panera, Raising Cane’s, etc. so this was a great treat. 

Tower Bridge, London
The London Eye

The Saturday before Halloween we went on a London pub crawl which was such a fun and interesting experience. We went to five different bars/clubs in a group of about 30 people. We got discounts on drinks and free shots from each venue. I am not a heavy drinker but one thing I have found interesting about the UK is that their shots are smaller and drinks are weaker. After some research, I found out that a “free pour” is not a thing in the UK. They measure out every drink and their shot are almost half the size of shots in America. I could not find a reason for this other than it’s the law and it’s just the way America is. I think this goes into the drinking culture in the UK versus America. There is a culture in America to drink until you get drunk and drink until you pass out. Being a heavyweight and drinking to your limit is also hyped up in America whereas in the UK you just drink to drink, it’s really no big deal. I think it was great to see another culture’s view of drinking because it really shows how things in America that may seem defining are really not as important or significant as we think they are. We met some fun people on our crawl. The people in London were so interested to hear about America. They were very respectful about making conversation with us, including us in their conversations, as well as giving us space when it was clear we just wanted to do our own thing. The whole experience was so laid back, it was such a great debut into London nightlife and it was a Halloween I will never forget.

London Pub Crawl

London is definitely different from Glasgow. It’s much bigger, more expensive, more modern and honestly more similar to America. You see more American brands, foods, people, music, etc. I could definitely live in London, but Glasgow is less similar to America making you step more out of your comfort zone.

Iceland (Reykjavik and the surrounding area)

Iceland was the most amazing place I have ever been. I am not exaggerating or bragging. Iceland was incredible. Everyone goes to Rome, Paris, London, etc. Those are the big cities full of history and beautiful sites. You never really hear about Iceland and it was definitely a more expensive trip than a quick bus to London, but it was 100 percent worth it. We planned ahead and saved money specifically for this trip and it was one of the best decisions. First, the food was incredible. Iceland is known for seafood and even though I wasn’t brave enough to try the shark dishes I had lobster, scallops, and saltfish. They were all incredible. The food is a little pricey and drinking in Iceland is much more expensive than other European countries, however, a nice seafood dinner in Iceland is essential. We didn’t drink at all in Iceland due to the cost but also because we rented a car.

I honestly could not imagine visiting Iceland without renting a car. The cities and sites are pretty spread out. We stayed near the Reykjavik Airport in Keflavik which was a 45-minute drive from downtown Reykjavik. the scenic attractions were anywhere from a 15-minute to 2-hour drive from our hotel making the rental car very worth it. We also didn’t have to pay extra fees because you can rent a car with no extra charge at 20 years old. It was the only way to see Iceland and since we were only there for a weekend it was the perfect choice for us.

My favorite places in Iceland were the Brimketill Lava Rock Pool and the Blue Lagoon. We saw a lot of American tourists at these places and it makes sense why. The Lava Rock Pool gives an incredible view of the black rock ocean. The blue lagoon is a hot springs resort with bright blue water. These were some of the most amazing things I had ever seen and created unforgettable moments. 

Brimketill Lava Rock Pool
Blue Lagoon, Iceland

I found it interesting that everyone we met at restaurants and around town spoke English. Icelandic is a complex language and I don’t know how to say more than three words, so I was thankful there were no language barriers. We saw a Costco in Iceland which really shocked me. Costco has basically taken over the world, I’ve decided. In Iceland, they drive on the same side of the road as America but I still found some trouble adjusting to driving. Not only has it been two months since I have driven a car but the signs were completely different. I had to guess what the icons meant and be very aware of the roads because I was in a completely foreign place. There were also barely any stoplights and tons of roundabouts which was an interesting adjustment. The car and speed limits are in kilometers which really threw me off when trying to comprehend my speed and how fast I was going. It’s amazing to say I drove in another country but I had to be on my best driving game the whole time.

After going to Iceland I posted about it on my social media. I got so many messages from kids I haven’t seen since High School asking how I was visiting all these amazing places. I explained to them that I was studying abroad and it’s a lot easier to travel Europe from Europe. I know I am so fortunate to have this opportunity. I also know that traveling while studying abroad is an expense I am lucky to be able to afford. My advice, wherever someone chooses to travel is don’t limit yourself. Take advantage of every opportunity and see everything you can see. You might not be able to go everywhere your friends go and that’s okay. Just do what you can because these are your memories that you will carry with you your whole life. No one can take them away and no one can make them less special if you stay grateful for every opportunity.

Valahnukamol, Iceland

Salsa in Sweden?

Hejhej! People always say that study abroad is about pushing yourself outside you comfort zone and trying new things. I have found that being open to new experiences has been one of the best ways for me to not only learn more about the world, but also meet more people. Sweden is a known to be a very homogenous society. However, Lund, the university town in a southern corner of Sweden, draws in a large international population. This is mainly connected to the fact that the university hires many international professors as well as offering many degree programs and exchange opportunities for international students. During my first month in Sweden, Lund was hosting a large Kulturnatten festival. This was a day of Lund celebrating and showcasing cultures around the world through various lessons, performances, and foods. A friend invited me to go to some Latin dance lessons being put on by a community center, and I found that I loved getting to try all of the different dances we learned. One of the busiest ones was salsa, and they told us that we could sign up for lessons that happen every week for 10 weeks. Me and a couple of friends decided to just go for it and join the lessons. As we just had our final lesson last night, I have begun reflecting on what this experience has meant for me. It turns out that this has ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve made during my time abroad.

The salsa lessons happen for two hours each Wednesday evening, and are open to anyone in the community. The teacher is an amazingly kind and funny man from Cuba. Each week, 15 to 20 members of the Lund community cram into a ballet room to learn how to step, spin, and shake to Latin music. Not only have I learned that I am capable of learning something I had never thought of before (I have historically been known to have two left feet), but I gained something even better. I have met and bonded with people from all walks of life. My fellow salsa students range from high schoolers to young adults returning to Lund after attending university to married couples. Most interestingly, perhaps, is that my history professor is actually in the class as well. It’s been a treat getting to see her as my teacher and as my peer (in vastly different subjects). Most people are Latin American and enjoy the chance to speak in Spanish, but some (like me) are just wanting to try something new. I’ve met people from all over the world as well as befriended locals. The key is that we are all bonding over something that isn’t necessarily related to any of our cultures. I always leave that class full of laughter, stories, and maybe even some rhythm.

As I bond with these individuals over knotting our arms and losing our steps, I realize that after three months, I am already finding a small community here in Sweden. It certainly wasn’t the community I expected. I mean, who thinks of learning salsa and practicing Spanish when Sweden is mentioned? But that doesn’t mean it’s any less of the community I need. This salsa class is the welcoming group I had the honor of finding because I was willing to step outside the norm and try something I was uncomfortable with. It’s been one of the best ways to get outside of the ‘American bubble’ and meet people from around the world. It’s also allowed me to get to know Lund community members. Instead of just meeting students, I’ve chatted with people who grew up in the town. This is something very special to me, as I grew up in a small college town on the Western slope of Colorado. Getting to embrace the community, not just the university, has reminded me of home in all the best ways.

While I would encourage people to try anything new that interests them, I can also acknowledge that part of the magic of the random activity I joined was the fact that it’s salsa. Dance connects people. And choosing to take a dance lesson from another culture typically means that you are wanting to learn and a bit more open minded. The people I dance with are friendly and welcoming. And they want to share their newfound love for salsa with others. So instead of dancing once a week at my lessons and then going back to my rigid lifestyle, I find myself with weekly invites to various salsa events. Some of these are larger cultural events being hosted by community centers. Some are larger events taking place in Malmö (the larger city 15 minutes away). Some are club nights being hosted by the Lund university groups. Some are small parties being put on by my classmates. The variety in the events focused around salsa means that I am meeting even more people in the community and getting to share the wonderful dance with them. At each of these events, I learn. I learn more intricate dance moves, more stories, a little bit more Swedish (and Spanish), and more about myself. It is scary to put myself in a position where I can mess up and embarrass myself. It’s scary to dance with someone who is a lot better than you and wants to chat in another language. But it is extremely rewarding to connect with other people over this one common interest. I can only hope that when I leave Sweden at the end of the year, I bring home these connections, my new appreciation for salsa, and the desire to keep pushing myself outside my comfort zone.