The easiest thing to write about is the weather, as it is the thing that I complain about the most these days. I always joked that my Lund year would be the test to see… More
Traveling in Europe can be a tricky process. Trains seem to be the most reliable to avoid delays and save money, however due to constant strikes it is always a gamble if the trains will shut down when you are planning to travel. Buses take so long but are cheap. Planes are efficient and fairly affordable however you can count on delays every time you fly. In summary, traveling in Europe is risky, so how much are you willing to bet? Last weekend we seemed to take gamble after gamble.
December in Paris is beautiful. The cold air was so refreshing in the fashion capital of the world. My best friend and I decided Paris would be our last trip before we prepared for our departure back to the United States. We thought it would be nice to do some Christmas shopping in a city known for its intense shopping scene and amazing sights. We had both seen the Eiffel tower before, but it was just as incredible seeing it for a second time. We took a stroll down the Champs-Élysées and stopped to marvel at the Arc de Triomphe. It is hard to describe the beauty of Paris. It looks similar to the buildings in London and Italy but different at the same time. The sights are just as incredible as Buckingham Palace or the Pantheon, but they also have a uniqueness to them I cannot understand. The whole city sparks certain emotions, making me understand why it is nicknamed the city of love. I tried French Onion Soup for the first time and walked across the many bridges near the Eiffel Tower. We ate a nice dinner at a seafood restaurant near our hotel and it was some of the most amazing food I have ever eaten. We didn’t stay out too late because two girls walking around Paris at night by themselves was not a risk I was willing to take. We never had any issues, but I was not willing to push my luck. We actually felt pretty safe in Paris. I travelled to the city in March of 2019 with my High School. There were fifty 16 to 18 year olds traveling on the trip and we had multiple encounters of pickpocketing, street scammers, suspicious figures, etc. I noticed a few red flags on our journey last weekend, but it was easily manageable. For instance, when we were leaving the airport, there were men in street clothes asking if we needed a taxi. Although this may seem normal, I had a bad feeling so my friend and I ignored their offerings and got an Uber to our hotel. We saw a few street performers doing the trick where they hid balls under cups and make the audience try to guess which cup they are under. Again, seems normal but I didn’t trust there weren’t hustlers or pickpockets in the crowd taking advantage of the distraction. The trip was a huge success, until our flight back to Glasgow.
We flew from Glasgow to London, and then London to Paris when arriving in the city. On the way back we followed the same route, flying from Paris to London, having a short layover and then flying from London to Glasgow. When we left Paris the plane was delayed due to heavy fog in London. Fog is very dangerous for flights because it diminishes visibility causing safety hazards when landing. The flight was not delayed too long and eventually we were on our way to London. The issues began when we landed at Heathrow airport. When we got to London, the fog delay made complete sense, we could barely see the ground and after getting off the plane we looked outside and could only see 50 yards in front of us. We received notifications from British airways saying our flight from London to Glasgow had been delayed. Then we got a notification it was cancelled and we were going to be flying from London Heathrow Airport to Edinburgh. it was a slight hiccup because now we would have to take a bus from Edinburgh to Glasgow but the airlines would cover the cost and we would still be home that day. After a short while our flight changed again. Now, we were flying from London City Airport (About an hour and a half from London Heathrow Airport) to Edinburgh at 8pm that night. It was 10am at the time. The customer service representative assured us that was our best flight option and sent us on our way. He said British Airways would cover food expenses and transportation expenses from the airports. Sitting at the airport for 10 hours did not seem ideal so after some quick search on apple maps we found that my best friend’s boyfriend lived fairly close to London City Airport. We took a train to his flat and were able to turn the delay into a nice day in London. We went to the London City airport that night, but by that point it had started snowing. Snow was nowhere on the forecast, but London pulled a page from the Colorado book and decided to give us a winter weather surprise. Our flight was cancelled.
Standing in the customer service line I was so exhausted, I couldn’t even be mad. I also knew it was not the faults of the British Airways workers, so I hoped no one would get upset with them. To my surprise, no one was really angry. Some people were more irritated than others but in America there would be furious people shouting, making scenes, and demanding fixes. The only man visibly upset was a short ways behind us in line. He was yelling on the phone and it seemed he was talking to a British Airways representative. After he hung up he began pushing his way up the line. He heard my friend and I talking about our flights and he asked if we were going to Edinburgh because he was as well. We offered our support the best way we could by just listening to him rant about how the delays have ruined his whole trip. Before he opened his mouth I already knew where he was from: America. He ranted for a good twenty minutes. I especially enjoyed him talking about how the trains in London are terrible because you have to press a button to open them. In Chicago they open automatically. He seemed very upset by this. I do feel for the guy. We have traveled so much in so many different places that even though I was exhausted from the delays and stressed about going home I knew we would figure it out. I wasn’t scared or angry. I was just tired. But, if I had never been to Europe before or even had only been there a couple times, I could understand the fear, worry, and frustration. The couple next to us began listening to the man as well. They were also going to Edinburgh and had now joined the conversation. I told the group my honest opinions saying “European transportation is a gamble.” My friend looked at me like I was crazy, saying something like that in front of Scottish people. I was a little worried too that I was going to offend the couple, but I sighed in relief when the man just smiled and said “you get used to it.”
This whole fiasco is something I will remember for the rest of my life for multiple reasons. 1. The stark differences in how Scots handle delays and customer service encounters compared to how Americans handle it. 2. European travel is tricky 3. European travel is tricky but my friend and I not only survived but thrived under the pressure. If you had told me a year ago I would be stuck in London at two different airports on a flight home from Paris I would have said you were crazy and then I would have freaked out. I remember sitting on the train after our last cancellation thinking this is a test. This is a test of what we have learned about ourselves and traveling since being abroad and I have to say I think I passed.
We were supposed to fly back to Glasgow on December 11th and after being cancelled due to snow we were put on a flight the morning of December 13th. I had to work on my finals at the hotel and thankfully my friend’s boyfriend let us use his kitchen to make dinner instead of going out to eat. The airlines was covering our hotel, transportation, and food, but we had to book our own hotel and the food allowance was minimal. We made it back to Glasgow at noon on December 13th after two nights in London. Recounting all the details I feel stressed, but in the moment when it seemed we were going to be stuck in London forever, I was perfectly calm, exhausted, but calm. I can’t tell you what made me change or become this person who stays cool as a cucumber when stranded in a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on our backs, and just some extra pants and toiletries in my backpack, but I did it. I did it because I studied abroad in Scotland for three months. I’m not going to give you a sappy piece about how my whole life has changed, but it’s important to take a moment to appreciate the person you’ve become and note how you got there. It’s those moments I will gamble for every time.
One of the aspects of doing a longer study abroad term means that I had to find my own housing in Lund. While housing and renting is very competitive, I was lucky and found a room in a two bedroom apartment that I could sublet for the year. My flatmate is a 24 year old named Mo, and he’s been living in Sweden for the past 8 years. When I first arrived, I was very nervous about moving in with a man I had never met before. However, Mo ended up being one of the best aspects of my time abroad. He has been extremely kind, and took time off to show me around Lund and Malmö. On top of this, he helped me get my coordination number in order to open a bank account to pay rent, and has tried to help me learn Swedish.
Two months ago, Mo left on a long trip back to his home country to visit his family. I am very excited for him, as he hasn’t seen them since he left as a teenager. In his absence, he had a cousin coming and visiting the apartment a couple nights a week to pick up mail and collect my rent. In some ways, this is an amazing set up, where I practically have my own apartment for half the cost. For most of the time this has been the situation, I have really enjoyed it. Even when Mo is here, we have very different schedules and I am alone in the apartment majority of the time. Having my own room and restroom, and a kitchen where we rarely overlap, has been amazing.
However, I am starting to realize some of the downsides to living alone during my time abroad. During the first couple months I was here, I would tell my parents that this was the most social I had ever been in my life. From multiple fika meet-ups a week to salsa classes to random Nation events to cultural events to Swedish language cafes, my introverted self was very much in a growth zone. However, these past couple of weeks have made me realize that part of the reason why I’ve been able to be so social is due to the fact that I am spending more time alone than I ever have. I knew going in that studying abroad would be a lot of time alone, and I have cherished getting to do what I want in my free time and exploring by myself. Yet I have never been this alone before. I am a middle child, which means that I was never truly alone growing up. Last year, I was in a 6-person apartment style dorm room in Nelson. While sharing one bathroom with 5 other girls wasn’t the best situation, there was always someone else around for me to spend time with. I spent my whole life knowing that going home meant going to a place filled with my favorite people.
Now, every time I go home, I am completely and utterly alone. Like I said, part of this has been wonderful. I get to relax and recharge without the stresses of other people. But as the holidays are quickly approaching, I believe I finally crossed the fine line from alone to lonely. All of my friends who are in corridor rooms (the same style as single freshman dorms) are enjoying Christmas dinners and international food nights before the one semester students go home. That living situation, where you get close to the people who you were randomly assigned to live with, is one of the quintessential study abroad experiences. It’s hard to not have that, especially as my halfway point approaches.
I know that after I go home for the holidays and travel up to northern Sweden with a friend I made here, I will be ready for my quiet and spacious apartment. I will be more than ready to be alone once more, and prepared to take measures to avoid feeling lonely again. This will include taking a much more demanding course, finding more volunteer opportunities, and developing a better schedule where I force myself to leave the apartment during the dark and short days. It will also include making efforts to build on the friendships with people I met this first semester, as well as reach out to the new semester exchange students that will be arriving. I made so many wonderful friendships during this first semester that I know I am capable of doing it again next semester, I just have the added hurdle of living alone.
While this post can come across as very sad and homesick, I do think that there is some wisdom and advice within it. While there are a lot of factors associated with choosing where to study abroad, I believe that the living situation should be one of them. No matter if you are homestaying, or living with local students, or other international students, or just DU students, or even with a random person who you found through a rental website, this shapes part of your time abroad. A large portion of study abroad is pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and trying new things. The place you go back to every night to unwind matters. I have loved having this apartment to call home. It’s in a residential area and the situation has forced me to make better efforts to participate in social events and activities. On that note, the social life of the university/city you go to also matters. I know that being lonely is okay because Lund has a ton of events that are open to international students. There are things to do every night of the week if I so wanted to. I found a fun group this semester within the Latin American community here, and I am going to begin volunteering at more Nation events next semester. I strongly recommend taking this into account when thinking about what you want to get out of your time abroad. For me, getting to know parts of the community and being fulfilled while in Sweden was one of my main goals. While it’s not always easy, I have no regrets about choosing this program for a year.