Monday, March 31, 2014

Real Talk

The beginning of this is a post written especially for those who are interested in studying abroad themselves. It is a realistic look into a very normal part of the emotional process of living so far from home. While it is an amazing experience I wish everyone could have the privilege of doing, it isn't always the glamorous, carefree, and easy life some paint it to be. It is hard being away from familiarity and not getting to share in the good and bad of the people you love most. It is hard being in a place where you don't always know where to go and people don't necessarily know your language. It is hard to realize that not everyone is like you.

But it is also the best part, because that is when you know that there is so much more to learn and appreciate that you never even considered possible, and had you stayed home you would have never even realized it.

This week has been completely different from any other weeks I have had here. Between stresses with school, being sick, dealing with a trip suddenly being cancelled (yep, Berlin and Prague died due to having not enough people sign up, my heart is actually broken), and having it snow again, I found myself missing home a lot and constantly comparing everything to what I considered to be "normal".

I can't even believe it has been almost 3 months since my sisters brought me to the airport. Wow.

There was even a couple of days where everything (and I mean everything) annoyed me. It's like the rose colored glasses had been removed and I was seeing things for what they are instead of marveling at every little detail. We had been warned of this phenomenon during our orientation when we were taught about the stages of culture adaptation. I am fairly certain I am at the "confronting deeper cultural/personal issues" one and it will only be up from here. But still, yikes. The struggle is real.

I am especially surprised at how bothered I feel over how much people think they know about the US. I say I am American and at first they are all like "Wow! Really? Oh that is so awesome, I have always wanted to go there! I can't believe I am meeting you, what are the chances? Can I have your autograph?" (Maybe a little dramatic, but just a little.) And then it always turns into something like "Oh so everyone eats McDonald's for every meal? And if you don't have health insurance, they just watch you die on the street? And, I know that if you are a woman in government who is a single parent, you are shunned by all other politicians." Uhhhh what?! Where do people even get this stuff? Absolutely ridiculous. Bye. I don't know why people care so much about what (they think) is going on in the US. So strange. 

Despite my inner struggles, it was an okay week. Pretty average, actually, with the exception of a final exam. I had choir on Monday, had class and studied on Tuesday, nannied on Wednesday, took my exam on Thursday, and attended a birthday party on Friday. Since my exam on Thursday, I feel so much more relaxed. Test anxiety does not care which hemisphere you are in, apparently. I am excited for my next (and final) courses to begin, Film Study and Intercultural Communication. 

On Saturday, we enjoyed the Carnaval Party (and probably had more fun making costumes than anything else :) )

On Sunday, a group of us went to the lake (Lake Vänern to be exact, which is the 3rd largest lake in Europe and also happens to be a 10 minutes drive from campus). It was

Laying on a rock, good times.

We even stayed for the sunset. It was such a relaxing way to end a stressful week. You got it right, that is a #sunsetselfie 

So, now after all of the negativity is off my chest, here comes the upswing of my experience. I can feel it. Helped along by the soon to come beautiful spring weather, of course. I will be traveling to Rome in just over a week and have other travel plans in the works of being confirmed. Nothing but good things ahead and I am excited for this stage to pass. That being said, a big shout out to the amazing folks at home, can't wait to see you in a very short 3 months. Much love!

PS I love my floormates and don't know what I would do without them. So lucky :)

Friday, March 21, 2014


I know I haven't written in a while, but I hope it was worth the wait! So I got back from London a couple of days ago and wow...where to even begin. Between all the beautiful buildings, history, culture, accents, english everywhere (a luxury I will never take for granted again), and the overall vibe of the city, I can honestly say it is my favorite place that I have ever been to. There really is nothing else like it. Even though Chloe and I were there for 6 days (4.5 if you count traveling), we covered A LOT of ground. There is so many pictures I took that I can't get over, so I hope you are okay with this post resembling a mini photo album.

The journey to the airport was...interesting (if you really want to know just ask me), but, by some odd miracle, we ended up there on time to attempt to conquer the beast that is Ryanair. Maybe we were lucky, but it was quite a smooth process. We got to London, hopped on a bus, and went to get underground passes to get to our accommodation (which was a 1+ hour trip we later found) where we ran into our first culture shock: customer service (or lack thereof).

An English person (Brit? Englishman? Londoner? Whatever.) later explained that employees have no incentive to be polite to customers unless they get tips. Which would make sense, if it weren't for all of the rude bartenders we encountered. Maybe they get annoyed with all of the Americans (we kind of did too), but still. How hard is it to smile every now and then? It is becoming very clear that no one emphasizes customer service like the US, which probably comes off really fake to foreigners but, hey, it is what we are used to.

We got to our place, and settled in. It was a little cabin in the backyard of a house, really private and adorable. My only complaint was how far it was from the city, but I guess you get what you pay for. In the morning, we headed to Camden Town to check out the market. The weather was nothing short of amazing. Sunny and 65-70 degrees. I actually got a little bit sunburned. We loved all of the different jewelry, clothing, souvenirs, and food they had there. There really was everything you could ever imagine. After a long day of shopping, we settled in by the water to soak up the sun and enjoy the first Mexican food we have had since we came to Europe. Talk about a perfect day.

At night, we participated in a pub crawl. We had quite an interesting group with us, but it was overall a fun time. It was cool to see London on a typical Saturday night and to see how multiple clubs and bars were. The last club of the night had a swimming pool, which was one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. Quite an experience.

Sunday was the big St. Patrick's Day parade at Piccadilly Circus. It was pretty laid back, but we especially enjoyed all of the bagpipes and river dancing. It was awesome to see so many people with such a pride for their country, even while in another.

After a much needed coffee break, we started walking around the city to find Trafalgar Square, where the rest of the St. Patrick's Day festivities were taking place. On the way, we discovered St. James's Park, which was absolutely stunning.

When we found Trafalgar Square via following all of the green wigs, it was so packed that police were not letting anyone in. But, we were perfectly fine with continuing to wander. And then, we caught our first glance of Big Ben. Words can't even describe how exciting it was, seeing such an icon in person. Especially since I am a huge Peter Pan fan. And of course, we wasted no time in taking the classic telephone booth pictures.

Next, we crossed the walking bridge to get a better view of Westminster from across the river. We found a spot right next to The London Eye and were literally paralyzed by the view. We sat there for hours, with the sun shining on us. It was easily one of my favorite moments of my life thus far. It hit me how real this experience is, and how incredible it feels to follow your dreams without anyone else's help. It was so empowering and made me so thankful all over again to be doing what I am doing.

We kept walking a little bit and ran into Westminster Abbey (where William and Kate were married-eek!).

After some more exploring, we headed home to catch up on a little bit of sleep. The next day, we got up at the crack of dawn to embark on our tour day! We began on an open top double decker bus (which turned out to be the only sunny/warm part of the day, lucky us). We literally got to see everything else we had missed including St. Paul's Cathedral, Fleet Street, some Harry Potter filming locations, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, the Globe Theater, and the London Bridge, to name a few. We later got on a boat as part of the tour, which was great, because almost everything important is visible from the water.

And, of course, Buckingham Palace!

Then, after lunch, we hopped on a bus and went to Stonehenge. Yes, Stonehenge. I still can't even believe it. It is something you see in textbooks and on the Discovery Channel, so it is so surreal to be able to say I was there. Amazing. 

After we got back to town from our 11 hour tour day, we decided to head back, regroup, and make a plan for our "whatever we haven't seen yet" day. We decided on Notting Hill Gate, a quaint area of town with lots of shopping opportunities. I even got my fish and chips, which was a very important item on my checklist. It was even in a traditional English pub, so I was super happy. 

After that, we headed to Greenwich, where several museums were. Chloe was especially excited about the Royal Observatory, but we got there 20 minutes after they closed. We never would have dreamed of a museum closing at 4:30, but I guess these are the kinds of differences you need to be prepared for. I still got a picture of the Prime Meridian (Greenwich Line), so that was pretty cool.

And, when passing the Royal Maritime Museum, witnessed the world's largest ship in a bottle. Pretty neat.

After that crushing blow to our plans, we decided we needed something to be excited about. So, we headed towards the theatre-laden area of town in search of some tickets to a show. Our first choice was "Once" (plus it was the day after St. Patricks, we were clearly still in an Irish mood), and we scored some decent seats. Although we were not allowed to take pictures of the inside, let me tell you, it was beautiful. A classy place with lots of chandeliers, red velvet, and the set was awesome. It was a great show and such a fun way to end the trip.

Then, after trying falafel for the first time (YUM), we headed home for the last time ever. We were getting really depressed about leaving London with so much unseen, but it was inevitable. There is literally endless things to do and see, and this makes for a great excuse to keep coming back, which I have every intention of doing. 

We conquered Ryanair for the second time and getting off the plane literally made me want to die. Going from being sunburnt to getting wind-whipped with snow was not the welcome I was looking forward to. But, the snow melted quickly and I have to admit, it feels really good to sleep in my own bed (especially since developing a sinus infection when I got home). I was super lucky with the timing on that one, yikes. The next big adventure is to Rome, Italy in a few weeks and I am so ready to continue checking off on my bucket list! Life is good :)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

What I have far

Living on another continent for any amount of time is bound to bring on personal changes and reveal things about the world you are surprised to learn. This could not be any more true for me, and it is something I have really started to notice over the past week especially. For example, I took the wrong bus to go grocery shopping (correction: right bus number, wrong route). This meant having to get off at the city center and waiting 15 minutes for the next one. To make matters worse, it was blowing rain and  I was wearing glasses.

For some reason, I wasn't bothered at all. I stood under a tree with my headphones in and saw it as an opportunity to listen to 4-5 extra songs. The other Lynsi would have been stressed out and frantically looking for a place to go to pass the time. Instead, I just relaxed and took in the beautiful buildings around me. I was amazed at how rational my thinking process was: I had no concrete plans for the day other than for dinner, I knew exactly what bus I needed to take, and had a list of all the things I needed to buy. What is another 15 minutes? The end goal of my shopping trip would be the same after all. Wow. Who am I?

If you don't really know me, this might be confusing. So brace yourselves, it is about to get personal. Some other things that I have learned about myself...

-I love love love to be independent. Seriously. Going places alone (when I know where I am going) is the Solitude is something I appreciate a lot more than I thought.
-I am not an easy one to get to know. It takes a certain kind of person for me to be comfortable with right away. It takes a long long time for me to feel any sort of attachment to someone. I can get along with anyone, but I am really picky about who I make my true friends.
-The power of music. Oh man. I have been involved in organized music activities since I was four, but it is amazing how much it can do for your mood and turning a long bus ride into something worth looking forward to.
-I am a freakin' master chef. At first, cooking for one was a daunting task. But I have caught on quick as to how to use up my groceries efficiently and that frozen fruits/veggies are a beautiful thing.
-I can be happy anywhere with a healthy state of mind. It is not about where you live, it is all about staying positive. I wake up everyday with an excitement for what will come. Even in the moments where I miss home, I know it is worth waiting for.
-I miss the feeling of school pride. Why is nobody wearing Karlstad Uni clothes except for exchange students? Where is the flags, bumper stickers, people coming together outside of class? Taking sports out of a school completely changes the whole dynamic, and it makes me kind of sad that most will never understand what I mean when I say that.
-I am so not the touchy feely type. The greeting with the kisses on the cheeks freaks me out. You don't know me like that. I am more of a side hugger, but it is a work in progress.
-I am a mind reader. When someone is struggling to find a word, I almost always know exactly what they mean. I have so much respect for people taking classes in their second (or third of fourth) language, I think it is amazing.
-I appreciate architecture. A lot. I am constantly looking for buildings to etch into my memory, it is just so much older than home and I love all the details.
-Chivalry sure feels like it is dead. What happened to ladies first? I am three feet behind you, how hard is it to hold the door open? You just bumped into me, aren't you going to say excuse me? This bothers me a lot more than I thought it would.
-No matter how many differences we have between us, our similarities far outweigh them.

I know this list is only going to grow tenfold by the time I leave, and it is really exciting to anticipate all the ways I will grow and change for the better as an unintentional side effect of being here.

What I have been up to this week...

On Friday, my floormates and I threw together the contents of our fridge to make some awesome pizzas. Followed by looking up "how to twerk" videos on YouTube...yeah, don't ask. We are a fun group :)

On Saturday night, we had a sort of "battle of the sections" event between the womens' and men's choirs. For the second year in a row, the Alto 1's took home first place! If you are wondering about the capes, it is because we sang to the tune of "Misty Mountains" from The Hobbit as part of the show. Watch the whole thing here----->
(Warning: there is a small part in Swedish)

 My life was MADE when I got a care package from home this week! I got the slip in the mail that I had to go pick it up, and it was torture having to wait until the next day to go get it! It was from my awesome sisters of course. It contained Latte mix, peanut butter, a scarf, Cadbury eggs (my favorite Easter candy), eos lip balm, graham crackers (to make a proper s'more), and a St. Patrick's Day card.  I was so happy. If I had to say who I missed the most, it would easily be those two.

I nannied this week, and the girls were so happy that they didn't have to get all bundled up to go outside, so we spent a lot of the time at this cute park just a few doors down from their house. Afterwards, we played Harry Potter (not my idea) themed charades. They never fail at making me laugh.


And....(drumroll please) Chloe and I will be in LONDON this time next week and could not possibly be any more excited about it! I am sure my next post will be filled with touristy giddiness (you know you love it)....stay tuned :)