Yesterday a friend of mine messaged me for the first time in a couple of months. We both met because we were exchange students in Denmark at the same time and aren’t really able to talk much because we are from two different countries. I met her about a year ago and at first she didn’t like me very much because she thought I was childish and immature. Time passed and we both had our own experiences and did not see each other much because we didn’t stay in the same place but had some mutual friends among other exchange students.
Toward the end of our exchange year we were assigned to the same bus for our trip around Europe. That is where we bonded. She thought I had changed so much in a positive way that she saw me differently and I thought she was so down to earth and chill that I would give her a chance. When she messaged me, we started talking about what had been going on since we got back to our home countries and there was a level of trust behind everything we said to each other that was totally opposite of when we first met.
This is a lesson that I think I needed. Since I’ve been back I’ve been having a hard time. Most of my friends are hundreds if not thousands of miles away and I wish that I could see them but it’s so difficult and expensive. School feels like it’s taking up all the time I wish I could be spending on other things and is difficult to keep up with. And I feel trapped in the city that I was born, raised, and lived most of my life in just because I got one bit of what it would be like to live away from it and now all I want is more of it.
I need to be patient. Good will come to those who wait and I’m young. There will be more friends that I make during the next parts of my life and I will be able to visit or see all the friends I already have. School won’t last forever or at least at some point will no longer be a burden. Finally I’m already searching for opportunities to leave so something will eventually come up.
Exchange isn’t always pretty. Especially when coming back because you don’t know where home is anymore, you don’t know when you’re going back to your host country, and all around you are just confused by everything just like the beginning of your exchange. That’s what’s known as reverse culture shock. That time of confusion when you get back and the repeated and dreaded question of “what’s next?” are the things that change you. The one thing you need to get through it that you have gotten from exchange is patience because good things will come soon.
It seems like recently I have been getting a few questions about what will happen once I get home from Denmark. Well I’ve got one last year of high school. All my childhood friends have just graduated and I’m attending a new school as well. I also have to find a job and start applying to university. So it will be a busy time, right when I return.
I’ve gained a lot of weight during my time here. Around fifteen pounds or seven kilos. It’s pretty noticeable to me. I have no issue with it and could live with it, but I’ve become pretty unhealthy here. I’m going to start dieting back in the United States and try working out again. My family supports this with me and has decided to do a special thirty-day diet along with me that happens to be very effective.
I’ve looked online a bit for a job. It’s been hard to apply since I have been so far away so I haven’t looked too much into it. During the afternoons I’ll be able to have some time after school to work as well. School will take a bit of getting used to again, I’ve grown lazy, I need to get back into the habit of waking up at a reasonable time and being ready to work and go to school once again. I don’t really have much interest at the moment with a lot of social things during school this year. Most of my friends are finished with high school and moving on to college and I don’t have much of a desire to make many new ones since I’ll be busy and have a lot to focus on. Besides, I’ll be gone again once I start university.
University is another topic. I’m not staying in the United States. I’m currently looking into all sorts of places to apply to all over Europe. It’s not set in stone at the moment but I would love to study international business because I think I can exceed in that field and I enjoy the of being able to travel with a job I have. I love Boise, I really do, but I’m young and I want to continue expanding my horizons as much as I possibly can. This isn’t permanent. The next ten to fifteen years for me will be a lot of moving around before I decide to settle down.
Before living in Denmark I would have said something totally different. Such as wanting to study computer engineering in the university that both my parents graduated from. I had different values at the time and thought that I needed to have everything in my future planned out. Now I have almost no clue where I’ll end up, or when, or what I’ll be doing but even if I can’t see far down that path I can see that it’s the one I’m happiest following. I’d be lying if I said I’m not scared shitless for the future but I also mean it with every single inch of my body when I say that won’t stop me from jumping head first into the unknown.
As I write this, I’m on a train on the way to the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen. The destination isn’t the important thing right now but when I got on this train I didn’t realize I would pass so many places I have memories of: stopping for a coffee in Kolding while waiting for a train home; getting stuck in Federicia; bridge walking in Middlefart; and if you know me then you know what happened in Odense.
All these memories with people I wouldn’t have met anywhere else than here. I now have friends and family both here in Denmark and almost every continent in the world because of my exchange. I can’t thank them enough for the joy they’ve brought me, the memories we’ve shared, and the lessons they taught me. I wouldn’t put my readers through that list but I’m sure you understand my point.
Yes, I’ve learned a few things from my time here. How could I not?
Firstly I learned that I don’t think I have a home. My home is wherever I go. I can be in the city I was born and raised in or I can be in an entirely different place and surrounded by people who speak in a different tongue than I’m used to and still make it my home. My home is where I choose to be, and throughout my life that will change every few years I’m sure. In a sense I’m homeless, but I find comfort in that thought.
Before my year abroad I used to think that money was just about everything. I thought there was no way I could be unhappy if I had a nice car in the garage of a big house that I could drive every day as I wore designer clothing and an expensive watch. My eyes have opened since then. I now believe experience is worth all the money in the world. I would rather go see the world than work countless hours just to get seven digits in my bank account. Money is one of the roots of evil in this world and people care more about having it than they should and experience is often overlooked.
Lastly, you shouldn’t work too hard to be someone society or someone else wants you to be but instead be who you want to be. I know that for some this is very difficult and I have been lucky enough to have parents and family who support the things that I want for myself. I shouldn’t put a label on what I want to be or what I want to do. I am following the path that feels right to me even if none of my peers follow the same path. Everyone has their own decisions to make so there is no right or wrong with what people decide to do it and you have the ability to do what you want to. I don’t have a set path either. I’m not sure of what I want to do for a career and I’m only guessing at what I want to study in university. I do know that I want to do what I’m passionate about and I’m going to work harder on my passions such as writing and making music.
Eleven months ago I wouldn’t have imagined I would have become anything like I am now or have had the stories and memories that I do now. It is on the eleven month anniversary of my coming to Denmark that I plan on posting this. It has been a crazy yet amazing journey for me and I can only hope that there are more to follow that can even begin to compare to it.
Our time in France was over and we were headed to the last part of our journey, to Brussels and Amsterdam. Between the sadness that it was almost over and the waffle scents of Brussels there was a lot to process. It was hard to believe that we were almost home. But we had our last two days and nights together to enjoy each other’s company, just as we had been.
We didn’t actually stay in Brussels, we just made a stop there on our way to Holland. We stayed for a few hours and were treated to some Belgian waffles while we toured the Grand Place. I had been there before, and I remembered how I had a meal with my family in that area at a restaurant. With only a few hours left, we couldn’t do much besides wander around the city and take pictures.
We weren’t actually staying in Amsterdam, but a place in Apeldoorn that was sort of a camp. We noted the resemblance the place had to a 1980s horror setting coming to reality, but we were still happy to have the isolation and free space.
The day after we spent a night wondering if we would be stabbed by someone in a hockey mask, we headed to Amsterdam. Our large group started by taking a tour on a boat through the canals. The city was just how I had remembered it. It had its own feel that no other place can give you. I was extremely surprised to see how laid back people were and how easy it would be to get pot since the sold it at just about every shop on all the streets. People weren’t even concerned with what anyone thought, and would just light up a joint on the side of the canals. I come from a very conservative place so this is something totally unheard of for me. The Red Light District didn’t even seem abnormal there either. It just seemed like any other street except with a few more prostitutes. It is sad though, because it feels like every time I’m in Amsterdam I don’t have enough time to do the things I want to. I’ve even been there twice now and haven’t had the opportunity to go inside the Anne Frank house.
We all got back on the bus and headed toward Apeldoorn again. It was the last night on our trip, a fact of which everyone was aware. The people working at the camp allowed us to have a bonfire. Creating that fire reminded me of the different places some of us come from again. I am from the northwest part of the US and go camping almost every summer so I somewhat know how to put together a fire. Some other people were the same way. I was surprised to see that a few people didn’t exactly know how to do it. It reminded me why we are here and why we do what we do and that regardless of what culture you come from we can all be friends.
Sometimes it just feels like you are destined to meet people, and I was destined to meet everyone on that bus. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to think about any of the memories that were created this trip without a smile on my face.
Once we were finished with our adventure to Italy, a land filled with beautiful beaches and wonderful food, we were headed to our next destination that had both of those things still but was more to the west. We went to France. We started off going through Nice and stayed in Avignon before spending the rest of our France time in Paris.
Our original plan was to go through Monaco to see the Royal Palace there but because there was a Formula One event going on we had to change our destination to Nice. It was a gorgeous city that felt like it was right out of a movie. The streets were lined with palm trees and the sea right next to the city was the most blue that one could imagine. Everything was pretty pricey, of course, so instead of going to an actually decent place for lunch my friends and I went to a Subway and then enjoyed our sandwiches on the beach.
We stayed two nights in Avignon afterwards. during that time I celebrated my eighteenth birthday. If you have been reading my blogs for some time you would know it wasn’t my first time traveling during my birthday either. We visited an ancient 2000-year-old Roman bridge called Pont du Gard followed by a lunch in a nearby park. All the students on our bus surprised me by singing happy birthday first in English, then in Spanish, then of course in Danish. A group of French children nearby even figured out what was going on and they started singing in French. Later we went to see the rest of the city and a couple of my friends took me to get a cup of coffee and enjoy the rest of the day in a calm manner.
After our stay in Southern France we of course could not leave the country without visiting one of the most well known cities in the world, Paris. We spent three days in this massive and beautiful city that had seemingly endless historical locations and things to do. We took a day to visit Disneyland, which even halfway around the world still feels like the one in California. The day after that was totally free so we took the time to visit all the things that we had to see like the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph. The rest of the day was just spent enjoying the little things the city had to offer like various cafes and places to sit and eat something.
I definitely understand why there are so many people who want to visit France now. The country is gorgeous and it’s so well known that it’s not hard to find help for a lost tourist. There are so many places to see there even outside of the country’s capital. It would be so hard to see everything even if you lived in Europe.
After leaving our much-enjoyed stay in Vienna, we were off to northern Italy. There wasn’t just one place in Italy we visited. We stayed in Lido di Jesolo for three nights and during that time visited Verona and Venice.
The day on our way to Lido di Jesolo was a fairly long but very beautiful drive. We drove through the Alps which made me crave skiing once again since this is the first season of skiing I have missed since I started. I thought the mountains in Idaho were breathtaking but what we saw on that drive was what one might only see in a dream.
When we reached Lido di Jesolo, it was already late evening. The sun was still high and it felt only as if it were afternoon. Our hotel was less than 100 meters from the beach so everyone hurried to finish their dinner so they could go swimming before the street lights came on. I was among a few who were not in the mood to go swimming, so we kept the clothes on that we had been wearing the whole day. When I went down to the beach the waves were high and the people in the water seemed to be having the time of their lives. I was too impatient to run to the hotel and get a swimsuit on so instead I stripped into my underwear and swam with all the other students until the sun went down.
The next day we went to Venice, where everything is expensive(even $10 for just a cup of coffee). The streets were lined with buildings older than my home country and the food was amazing. Of course you can’t go to Venice without taking a ride on a gondola so we did exactly that. We were given a tour of the canals by a singing gondolier. Most of our time there was spent exploring what was around the city. Eventually we bought some of the best strawberries I have ever had and ate them sitting on a dock while we watched all the boats go by.
Our last day we spent in Lido di Jesolo was somewhat of a day off for everyone. We spent the entire day at the beach right outside of our hotel. The sky was free of clouds, the water was perfect, and everyone had a smile on their faces whether they were sunbathing as they fell asleep, or swimming in the low tide.
Finally after packing everything that we had back into our bus we were off. The drive to France was too long so we didn’t make it the whole way. We did however stop in Verona to see the balcony from Romeo and Juliet and see the city for a couple hours. Sadly enough we had not been given much time to see a lot so I think one day I’ll go back to see the rest of Verona.
I loved Italy. It was great to spend a slightly longer period of time in one place rather than one or two days. I’ll definitely come back since it was such a gorgeous place. Next time I hope to see Rome since that seems to be the more popular part of Italy.
After spending a couple nights in Prague we moved to our third and my favorite stop so far, which was Vienna. It’s hard for me to explain why it was my favorite but it seemed like my kind of city. It’s a country that’s landlocked and known for having beautiful mountains much like Idaho, my home state.
The entire city had a gorgeous mixture of modern and classic architecture. Before arriving to the hotel we were staying in we stopped by the Schonbrunn Palace. Unfortunately it was a little too pricey for me to go inside but I was able to explore the gardens surrounding it. They seemed never ending and I didn’t have enough time to see it all but it was gorgeous. The next landmark we visited was Hundertwasser. The the entire series of buildings is an art sculpture, it was so colorful that it seemed unreal and majestic. We were even taken to see a small concert of music that was made up of music written by Mozart and Strauss in a concert hall that Mozart had actually composed music in. As a violinist and music enthusiast I could not have been happier with an experience like that.
Sadly we had not been given much time to spend there. It was my favorite stop that we had made on our trip. It was a city of roughly two million people and was still not nearly as overwhelming as some of the giant cities I had been to. Had we been given more time to spend there I would have wanted to explore more. I wouldn’t have gone in any specific direction, but just to enjoy my surroundings and take everything in.
I got to talking with some of the other students as well and our conversations got deeper and deeper the more we talked. One topic I started to talk about was that I not only had a list of places I want to visit but that I also have a list of places I want to live in temporarily. It was a realization that something like exchange could never be recreated but I’ve become addicted to the feeling that it’s given me. I want to make my mark on many places in this world and inspire others through my actions and tell my grandchildren stories that will teach them to always go out of their comfort zone and do something amazing in their lives.
I only mention that because Vienna is on the list of places I want to live as of now. It’s not nearly as long as places I wish to visit but it will eventually grow I’m sure. All I can hope for now is that I will have the opportunities to live those places.