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Reflections

Usually, time passes by unnoticed. One rarely realizes the significance of a moment while it is happening. Instead, appreciation is found in reflection.

For me, studying abroad has been a time to really learn to live in the moment- to realize exactly what I am doing, while I am doing it, and how amazing it is. And to truly soak it in.

My last full weekend in Europe, my entire study abroad group visited the Greek island Crete, and stayed in a city called Chania. Crete is the largest Greek island, and the farthest south- one of the closest parts of Europe to Africa.

While I would say that every part of Greece, and Europe for that matter, has beauty, Crete had a unique beauty all its own. The weather was so perfect that we could’ve swam- 70 degrees. The water was an intense bright blue that pictures do not capture. The island itself has beautiful, huge hills and a rocky coast. Chania used to be a Venetian port (think: Venice) and it reminded many of my classmates of the Italian town (minus the canals, of course).

My group did have a busy weekend in Crete. We visited an archaeological site and museum, and aimlessly explored the town. However, the most significant moments there for me were when we walked to the Venetian lighthouse by the coast, and sat as a group, just talking, laughing, and looking at the water. A Greek island, unsurprisingly, is a good place for that.

Ok, it sounds cheesy and over-sentimental. But as I write this, I’m sitting in my own house in Minnesota, and I can’t help but be sentimental about the last four months- they feel like a dream now.

In my four months in Europe, I visited eight countries and 15 cities. I (attempted to learn) two new languages. I made 28 new friendships. I stood feet away from the Pope. I hiked mountains. I saw the Mona Lisa, The David, the Acropolis, the Coliseum, and the Sistine Chapel. I swam in the sea for the first time. I ate a ridiculous amount of gelato, pizza, pasta, and gyros.

But I can already tell that what I am going to take away from this trip is more than just checking some sights off my bucket list. There were other experiences just as impactful as those: my 28 new friendships with students in my study abroad group, my study abroad advisors, and their three daughters who came with on our trip. My professors of all nationalities. The Greek woman who ran the bakery on my street in Athens. The barista at the coffee shop on my street in Rome. The tellers at the grocery stores. And the completely, utterly random people I met on every leg of my journey and bonded with for some reason or other. Every single person I have met and every single experience I have had has given me a new perspective on life. As a college student, that’s all I want. That’s all I can ask for. I just want to grow.

Take a Breath

Twilight view of suburban Vienna from my apartment

            For the past few months I have been living in a homestay in Vienna. My amazing host family lives in an apartment complex slightly away from the hustle and bustle of the city, though still conveniently close by public transportation. Over these few months I have formed a routine of approximately when I leave to go to school and when I return. As a symbol of the normalcy with which I have begun to treat the fact that I currently live in Vienna, I have increasingly thought little of my commute. No longer the amazing adventure it was the first few days, I had begun to ignore it. However today, on the slightly emptier-than-usual subway due to a national holiday, I reflected on the continuing wonder that I am in Vienna. In the context of friends back in the US stressfully preparing for exams, I reminded myself that I too would again be in the US at college with significantly less time to enjoy the little things in life. I tried to open my eyes just a little wider, and catch glimpses of just a few more things flashing by in between stations because just as soon as the Pilgramgasse stop turns into the Margaretengürtel stop, I’ll be on a flight back to the US.

            Though I am lucky that unlike the majority of my fellow students, I will not be returning to the US before the holidays, the fact remains that suddenly I have only four days left in Vienna. I am terribly excited for the following three weeks of travel, however I must acknowledge the impending conclusion of the major chapter of my travels abroad.

            As I walked out of the subway station today, leaving the harsh noise of the train behind, I was embraced by the peacefulness of my little neighborhood. Stopping at a little overlook I usually pass right by, I took a moment to see the city around me. It was not that I haven’t taken in the view before, I have, but it was the sudden realization that there are only a few more times that I will have the pleasure of seeing the surroundings that have become my home away from home. I stood there a while longer, two or three more trains came and went, breathing in the cool evening air soaking up for one of the last times these surroundings which have become so familiar. Be they one month or one decade old, daily surroundings can contain incredible beauty. Take a moment someday and stop. Think not about how much longer you are going to have to wait for the bus, or why the road is so icy today, but look at your surroundings with fresh eyes. You never know what you might see.

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