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The final days

After my time in Spain, I arrived in London and stayed with a wonderful couple my mom was able to connect me with.  The absolute best part of the week was having one of my best friends, Jacy, fly from California to spend time with me.  Jacy and I studied chemistry together at NAU and she and I became incredibly close.  At the very last minute, she decided to use my dad’s benefits to join me.  We had an amazing time together and I could not be happier that she made the trip to see me. 

On our first day we headed into central London to do all the tourist attractions.  We saw Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and everything else that are well known.  After just one afternoon there, we felt very satisfied with that part of London and decided to spend our remaining days seeing different places.  We spent time in the amazing parks of London, including the well-known Hampstead Heath park, where we enjoyed the sunshine at the exclusive “Ladies Pond”.

One day we took a train out of London to the shore.  We went for a hike along the unique white cliffs and enjoyed the small beach towns, where we ate fresh fish and chips. The hike was very beautiful and unlike anywhere I have ever been.  The ocean was calm and we walked high over it with a beautiful view extending out to the horizon.  We also walked some along the shore, looking in tide pools and the rocky beaches.

We visited several other small districts that were recommended to us and just walked through the cute London streets and explored the area.  We had a very laid-back attitude and we enjoyed good food and beer, as well as each other’s company.  After five days in London, we packed up and flew to Prague, where I reunited with my family.

It was amazing to see my parents and sister again after so long.  I missed them so much and it is unreal that they are finally here with me again.  We spent a couple days in Prague where I showed them some of my favorite places.  It was much different than in March because it was very hot and everything was in bloom.  The parks were green and gorgeous.

We went to the Prague castle and cathedral, as well as Vyšehrad.  We walked along the river and ate good food.  My dad and I found an old bell tower that was probably supposed to be closed, but we went inside and climbed the rickety stairs to the top.  It was very interesting, and we just had to walk slowly and disperse our weight so as not to fall through the floor.

After a few days in Prague, we said goodbye to Jacy and sent her back home.  We continued on to Brno, Czechia for a couple days.  Although Brno is the second biggest city in Czechia, we didn’t spend any time in the city.  Our main destination was the Moravsky Karst and Macocha Gorge.  This area has very interesting topological and geological features which lead to beautiful caves.  The land is composed of karst, which is formed when water erodes sedimentary rocks, such as limestone, and creates cave systems formed by rivers underground.  These landscapes are known for sink holes, as well as caves with stalagmites and stalactites, formed from calcium in the water dripping through cracks in the ceiling.

As you may know, I love caves, so I had a splendid time exploring the caves.  We even got to take a boat tour on the river inside the cave!  The natural formations in the cave were beautiful and quite interesting.  The Machoca gorge was formed when one of the deep caves collapsed many years ago and is astonishing as well.  We were able to see it both from the bottom and the top.

We also took a day trip from Brno to Vienna and spent one day exploring the city.  Again, I was able to show my family the areas in Vienna I liked most, as well as the tourist spots.  After spending so much time over here, it is really fun to be able to show my family where I have been and to be so confident with the transportation, directions, and languages.

We then moved on to Ostrava where we had a more relaxed vacation.  We spent a lot of time sitting and drinking beer.  We also made it to the zoo and to Vitkovice (the industrial region), where I gave a small tour.  We also rode an elevator up into the town hall building to get a bird’s eye view of the city.  For me, the priority while in Ostrava was to enjoy a few final days with my friends, which I did successfully.  I spent many hours reunited with those remaining, including several of my closest friends.  We had a picnic in the park and beers at the pub.  I got to experience a few more laughs with everyone and share stories of my travels before heading on home.

On my last evening, a group of us climbed Halda Ema (the slag heap) one final time.  We got to the top right as a beautiful sunset covered the overcast sky.  We opened beers and watched as the sky changed to different colors, and eventually went dark.  Then we watched as a lightning storm rolled in, illuminating the sky around us.  We sat for over an hour, talking and watching the storm.  When finally it began to rain, we headed down the hill and walked back.  It was a perfect way to end my time in Ostrava.

I’ve slowly been saying goodbyes to people for a while.  I said goodbye to several close friends before going on my travels, but these last few days have been packed with tough farewells.  Each day I said goodbye to someone else.  I will miss my life and the people here more than I can express. 

We then headed back to Vienna for the weekend to participate in Europride.  On Friday evening and Saturday we joined 500,000+ people in a celebration of LGBTI pride.  We marched in the rainbow parade which took over five hours in 95 degree heat.  The amount of joy and love shared among the people around us made for a powerful and beautiful day. 

On Sunday we flew to London, where we had a huge dinner at the pub and settled in for the night.  We made it home on Monday evening, and I’ve been adjusting back to regular life.

Final Thoughts

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Winnie the Pooh

Looking back 5 months, it’s incredible to think how far I have come and how much I have changed.  When I left to come to Europe, I was terrified, home sick, and completely unsure about my upcoming experience.  I sat and cried when I said goodbye to my loved ones, feeling like 5 months was too long. And now as I sit on the train leaving Ostrava behind, I have tears in my eyes again.

This has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done.  My eyes have been opened by travelling to incredible places and meeting amazing people.  I will never have the words to express how grateful I am for the people I met while studying abroad.  I have formed connections so deep and pure with the people here.  Today my heart aches from the goodbyes, but I appreciate that they were so hard, because it means I was lucky enough to meet the best people imaginable.

I want to thank every person who has been part of my life in Ostrava for making my time so unforgettable.  From the friends with whom I travelled and spent every day to the friends I would sit and have a beer with once a week; you all impacted me more intensely than I ever thought possible.  I have loved every second I have spent with you and I will treasure those moments for the rest of my life.

Those closest to me not only brought me so much joy, but each had an impact on me and my view of the world.  Gesa taught me to be curious and always ask questions of the world around me.  Julia continually brought me outside my comfort zone and to helped me enjoy every moment in life.  Gloria reminded me how kindness and laughter are universal and can be shared despite any language barrier.  Yaren joined me in continual weirdness while also showing me the importance of learning about history and art and had an immense impact on my world view.  Iiro taught me to be brave and seize every opportunity and to laugh at all the little things in life.

And those are just the few I spent the most time with.  Every person I met changed me in some way.  I will steal a quote from a friend, Mustafa: “I am not the same person I am when I left, because now I am composed of little pieces of all the people I met while I was here.”  I carry every single person in my heart and in my thoughts, actions, and personality.

I have also grown as an individual immensely over the past months.  I am more courageous than I have ever been.  I have learned to travel on my own.  I have spent hours and days by myself, figuring out where to go and what to do.  I have slept in hostels, at strangers’ houses, and on trains.  I have fearlessly taken on new challenges, new cities, and new experiences.  There is something very powerful about learning to survive completely by yourself.

I am more confident in who I am than I ever thought possible.  For most of my life I have struggled, as many people do, with low self-esteem and lack of confidence.  Although this has been improving for the past couple of years, the last five months was the final step I needed to truly love myself in every regard.  I have seen the impact I can have on those around me and learned that I can completely be myself, and those who matter will continue to love me unconditionally.  I learned that I can be the first person to stand up and start dancing, and people will not laugh, but instead will smile and join.  I have learned that I do not need to hide in a crowd or behind others, but I can lead fearlessly and weirdly.  I finally can understand the quote from Dr. Seuss, “Do what you want and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  And not only did those who matter not mind, but they loved me even more for standing out.  It is life-changing to be self-assured.

I am more curious about the world around me after having my eyes opened by my friends from around the world.  I am determined to spend time learning about the biology and geology around me so I can understand more about the planet, specifically around my home so I can fully appreciate the area where I live.  I am interested in learning more about the history and culture of people from around the world after meeting the amazingly diverse people here.  I have spent endless hours talking politics, religion, history, and culture with my international friends to get a sense of how the world works.  I have many new goals about becoming an informed individual upon my return because I feel as though I have been so naïve about the world.

I am a new and better version of myself.  I have grown and improved in many ways over these months and have come to love who I am now.  Seeing more of the world in this way, as well as meeting amazing people and living a different life style has completely opened my eyes.

I encourage everyone who has the means and opportunity to travel.  Especially, students, take your chance to study abroad.  See the world, meet the people, and experience the culture.  Go to cities and go to the countryside.  Talk to locals and eat foods that intimidate you.  Step outside of your comfort zone.  It is intimidating, and some days you are miserable and miss home.  But I would not trade this experience for anything.