I am realizing that finding things to write about on a consistent basis is getting a tad bit more difficult. Last semester, I had trips to write about, as well as short little posts about the activities I was doing around Lund that seemed very foreign. While I am still trying to include posts/discussions about life in Lund, it feels silly to write about some of them. I am beginning to understand that this is because I may have, halfway through my time abroad, actually settled into Lund. This period, I am taking a full-time course called Applied Ecotoxicology. This means that my life is practically owned by the professor, and I spend majority of my waking hours in the ecology building. Honestly (and this will sound very nerdy), I find this setup amazing after I took a huge academic ‘break’ last semester (I only had class two or three days a week last period). On top of being challenged again in an area of study that I really enjoy, I am also getting to meet a ton of local full-time students. We all eat lunch together in the main seating area of the ecology building, and I always have someone to chat with during breaks. I am finally making friends in a class. 

However, I feel like I am no longer living ‘the exchange student life’ like I was last semester. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a real Swedish student. I still can’t speak the language (and have accepted that I won’t get proficient during my time here), and I’m not integrated into a Swedish friend group. But I do have a real life, rather than constantly traveling and just meeting new people every week. Last semester was a blur of new faces and names. I got so sick of the introductory conversation about where I am from and what I study and how long I will be in Sweden with people I only ever saw once. It’s important to meet new people, but it’s hard when that is the only conversation you are having. I had fully turned on my extroverted mode, where I asked everyone for their instagram and would message them inviting them out to fika in an attempt to make further conversation. It made sense why I did it, as I am now reaping the rewards. I get to see the same people every week while we do activities that I love. I get my weekly fika, go climbing every other week, salsa and make dinner at Hemgården on Wednesdays, have lunch once a week with a DU friend, and go to random events with international friends. Less frequently include hikes, cooking, volunteering at nation events, hanging out with the GIS cohort, and attending some Erasmus Student Network events. All of that on top of my studies fills my schedule to the brim, and I love it. I love that I have curated a little life in a random Swedish student city, and I adore ‘my Lund people’ . All of these activities are wonderful and special, but they are reaching the point where they feel almost normal. I can go through a day and get home at night fully content before it hits me that what I just did was in a foreign country. That I am, in fact, living in Sweden and doing these ‘mundane’ things. 

I am so glad that I feel at home and have formed a life here, but it scares me a bit. The start of February marked my halfway point, when I was 5.5 months in and 5.5 months away from leaving. I am now taking the time to reflect on all I have done during these last 5 and a half months, and I am content. I have made an effort to figure out Lund and, while there is still a lot to learn, I can get around both physically and socially. The circular cobblestone streets only confuse me about once a week now, rather than every day. I can answer the cashier at the grocery store, and order myself coffee at my favorite cafes. I have learned which nations offer the best pub nights and brunches, and which corridors have the best parties to crash (Delphi for sure). I no longer make eye contact for more than 2 seconds, except when “skål”ing/cheersing (there is a European myth that if you don’t make eye contact when clinking glasses, you’ll have bad sex for seven years). I can have conversation about the weather without thinking it’s awkward small talk, and I’m starting to think that traveling for more than 3 hours might be a ‘long trip’. I no longer wear more than one color at a time (though I haven’t fully turned my wardrobe grey). I have learned how to take the queue tickets that Sweden thinks is necessary for everything, and make the subtle passive aggressive look when someone doesn’t follow the “totally obvious” queue. 

On a more serious note, I am actually really proud what I have achieved in Lund over the last half a year. I have learned more about Swedish culture, certainly, but I have also learned a lot more about myself. Most of my time has been amazing, but there have been moments when I am really frustrated or confused. Most of these are related to my housing situation or the fact that I am from the US, but I think I am gaining an important introspective perspective (try saying that five times fast). Not only can I see where other cultures and countries are doing a lot better, but I am more appreciative of where I come from. The US American stereotype in Europe sucks, but growing up in an extroverted society has enabled me to meet all of the amazing people I now spend my time with. Being warm and friendly goes a long way, and refusing to stop in the face of the icy Swedish personality works. Eventually, they warm up and I’ve made some of the best friends here. Sometimes I’m lucky and find an extroverted Swede who just needed that small push. Putting myself out there over and over again made the introverted child I was very uncomfortable, but it was necessary. Somehow, going to a very introverted country has made me more extroverted and social than ever before. 

On top of learning enough about Lund to form a busy social life in the town, I explored during this first semester. I went on fun little day trips to Copenhagen/other towns in Skåne, a weekend trip to Regensburg and Munich to visit family friends, a one night trip to Odense, another weekend trip to visit my DU roommate from last year in Prague, yet another weekend trip to visit a friend from Oslo, a short layover visit to Reykjavik where I saw friends from my time living in Iceland, a longer trip to northern Sweden, and my most recent weekend trip to Gothenburg. I focused most of these trips on visiting people, with a few extra thrown in when I had the time/extra train tickets. This might be a bit bold (and I am definitely knocking on wood as I write this to avoid jinxing myself), but all of these trips went well. Of course, there were small things that went wrong, like buying a seat for the wrong train, delayed flights, and bad weather, but I loved every single trip that I embarked on. I attribute most of these to the amazing people I was visiting and that I went in to most trips with almost no expectations, but I do think that they have still taught me something very valuable.

Perhaps the best life lesson I have gotten from this past semester is to be okay with the unknown. When a train/flight is delayed, or my roommate leaves for three months and tells me his random cousin will be taking care of the apartment, or a guy friend tells me he’s addicted to me, or my bike gear shift breaks, or the Swedish money my dad gave me is declined because it’s too old, my initial reaction is to freak out. I am a worrier by nature, so my mind immediately assumes the absolute worst case scenario (which generally ends with me getting injured in a way that isn’t really related to the problem). Part of my solution to worrying is to become an intense planner. I plan out so much of the future and a lot of possibilities for ways that things can go wrong and what I will do in that instance. It is a good skill to have, but I have embraced the total opposite while here and I am substantially happier than normal. I have gotten better at just saying yes to random activities and being excessively spontaneous, even if I feel uncomfortable. So far, the best things have come from accepting the unknown and going for it. If there is anything that I want to take with me into my countdown months (I’m going to make myself cry if I think about this aspect too much) and return to the US, it is this newfound ability to be spontaneous without worrying. I don’t think it will always last, but I am certainly looking forward less stress for the next few months. 

Okej, I’m done with the heavy reflective stuff. Looking at the next couple of months, I am making a list of things that I want to do. I didn’t do that for my initial start of the exchange (again, no expectations = always pleased with the outcome), but I do think that I have figured out a couple Europe/Sweden must-trys for myself. These include visiting friends from the Netherlands, a longer trip to Stockholm, celebrating Valborg (Swedish holiday at the end of April), hiking to Ale’s Stones, actually going on a Lund Cathedral tour, returning to Abisko in the summer (to see the midnight sun), attending a Lund University ball, trying Swedish waffles, and doing a Finland/Baltics trip. If I don’t complete everything, I certainly won’t be disappointed, but this list gives me a bit of direction. Of course, I want to continue to grow as a person and student and all the cliches, but mainly I just want to continue to live this little life I have in Lund. I want to keep up with my fikas and salsa and rock climbing and pub nights and developing friendships I’ve formed and meeting new people through random events. If I do nothing the next few months except continue to study in Lund and do these activities, I will still view my time abroad a successful and rewarding endeavor. 


This Flight Tonight: Stuck in London

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.

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Eiffel Tower, Paris
Blog Post 10
Eiffel Tower, Paris

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.

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Sunrise on flight from London to Glasgow