Nostalgic but here.


So, sentimentality can be a bit of a turn off. But I’m going to do it anyways.

My Valentine’s Day last year was the most bewildering day of my life thus far, arriving in a new country at 10 in the morning when I felt like it was the middle of the night. My airport buddy, Daniela picked me up and whisked me around town, trying to keep me awake and get me settled into my new life.

At the end of the day, she dropped me off at my apartment, where I sat in my room and wondered what it would be like to live with three Austrians I didn’t know. Magda, when we met and she found out I was headed to Ikea shortly, asked me to buy a new shower curtain while I was there, so there I was, sitting in my room and wondering if I should go give it to her or put it up myself or just keep sitting there.

I eventually knocked on the kitchen door, a strange thing to do in a place where you are now a resident, and if what came next hadn’t happened, I don’t know what my five months there would have been like.

Magda was cooking with another girl, who introduced herself as Rebekka and immediately understood my position. Yes, bewildered. I was still holding the shower curtain at this point, but I sat down at the table with her while Magda cooked and she told me she’d studied at Syracuse, so she knew that the first few days were the hardest.

Then she asked me if it was hard to say goodbye to my family.

At that point, I realized that I hadn’t cried at the airport – because I hadn’t felt like I was leaving. The finality and the reality of going to another country to live for a semester hadn’t settled in. So the waterworks came, and I just kept saying, “I don’t know why I’m crying. I never cry in front of people.”

Rebekka handed me a pack of tissues, which made me cry harder, both at the kindness and the realization that I’d forgotten to bring tissues.

It was the start of one of the most significant friendships during my time abroad. Rebekka let me keep the pack of tissues, and a couple days later, she took me up to the Altstadt (up until that point, I was pretty disappointed with Graz, feeling like it wasn’t as beautiful as the pictures had been) and to the Schloßberg, where I could see out over the whole city.

DSCN5334Ah, I miss it.

You can relive it all there.

I’m so thankful for all that time. I’m thankful for the jet lag, for the amazing coffee, the countless cafes, the krapfen, new friends, misunderstandings between German and English and in-between, for all the euros I spent, the train journeys, the tram passes, ice creams from Eis Geissler, pastries, johannesbeere juice, messing up German words and getting laughed at (Rebekka laughed pretty hard at my pronunciation of Zwiebel), homesickness, longing for familiarity, finding new homes, old buildings, all the time walking.

I’ll be honest, I miss it.

But there’s so much to be said for living in the present, for being grateful for the incredible things God is doing in my life right now (like multiplying my $21 and birthday pledge into $3,193).

I’ll be nostalgic, but I’ll still be here.

 

Advertisements

En transit


I’m sitting in the Frankfurt airport right now, using my free half hour of wifi before we start boarding. I’ve gradually been hearing more and more English as I get closer to the United States (aka, heading to Canada right now, then to MSP).

Now that I’ve left, I think I’m ready to be home. But oh. The goodbyes.

I already hate saying goodbye. I never have the words to sum up what someone means to me or what I want them to know. But there was a bit of sweetness in the goodbyes this week, like the hint of sugar in my coffee on Friday since I was using the very last of my sugar. The friendships I’ve made here, though they’ve had little time to gestate and grow, have been so deep and wonderful. I said a lot of goodbyes, but I didn’t even get to say goodbye to everyone.

I haven’t cried yet. I’ve been close just about all week though. I think the crying will come once all the travel adrenaline goes. I’m not sad to be going home, but I’m sad to leave. I’m sad for this adventure to be over. I’ll grieve whenever that wave hits.

Where I often wished for more English, I’m grasping at the last bits of German, so proud of how much more I understand today than when I sat here on February 13th. I’m wearing the same shoes I was when I left (because I left so many pairs of shoes in a trash can in Graz since they were worn out), but my feet aren’t the same. They’ve got new callouses and blisters. And the rest of me is different, too. But I can’t say how. I’m not sure how I’ve changed or really, even all that I learned. But I suppose I’ll figure that out soon.

Almost time to board. Signing off til I get to the US.

Bar night.


It’s bar night here at my student apartment building. Usually this is the night where I sleep with headphones in my ears, not plugged into anything just trying to block out the noise, and I think dark thoughts to myself about how much I hate the noise and every single person making noise.

I don’t really hate them. Disclaimer. I just hate that the floors are so thin that I can hear what’s going on in the basement from my ground floor apartment. That’s all. I’m sure they are fine and lovely people during the day time. I’m sure they don’t mean to keep me from sleep every single Wednesday night. They probably have no idea how much I can actually hear from here.

Anyways, since I have only three days left to be here (actually, less than that, about two and a half), and I have to write an entire paper and take an exam in that time and pack and clean my room, I figured my time could be better spent than tossing and turning and sleeping badly.

So, I’m awake.

This is unprecedented.

It’s after midnight, and I am not only awake, I’m trying to be productive.

This does not happen. I’m a self-proclaimed ten-o-clock pumpkin because I firmly believe that nothing good happens after midnight and that very little happens that is good after ten.

However, tonight is an exception to that. Tonight, I fight my sleepy eyes and read about Hemingway and plan my paper. I hope that these connections I’m making actually aren’t stupid when I look at them tomorrow. I eat a yogurt to keep my body nourished and keep drinking water.

I ponder the packing and cleaning still to be done and remember how little brain power that takes. In a very short time, that’s probably all I’ll be good for… if I’m even good for that.

I’m trying so hard to not process my experience yet. I just can’t. I’m not done here, and I’m already trying to think of how I’ll sum up my entire semester in another country to my friends when they ask how it was.

I can’t. I’ll have to, but I can’t yet. Not while I’m still here.

Instead, I’m trying to soak things up, to take pictures all over and again, and let myself experience the wonder of it all. No processing yet. Just experiencing for now.

Feels.


I was waiting for the feelings to start. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been pretty matter-of-fact about leaving. Yes, sad to leave my people, but okay with going home. Excited to see my parents. Ready to be back to normal.

Now I’m not okay with going home yet. Partly because I’ve realized you can’t ever go back to normal after five months away. You’re different. Home’s different. Articles about reverse culture shock are preparing me.

I love home, but I love here, too. And I’m feeling nostalgic.

It’s like thinking you’re ready to jump off the diving board then realizing as you’re on your way to the water that you’d rather stay on the diving board for a bit and clawing and thrashing at the air, trying to fight the inevitable splash.

Does that sound dramatic? I feel dramatic.

I started taking my pictures and maps down from my wall today. I pulled my suitcase out from the closet and put souvenirs and clothes in it.

WHAT.

I said my first two “goodbye”s this afternoon. They were awful because saying goodbye is always awful, especially when you don’t know when the next “hello” could be. Also, “goodbye” is such an ugly word. It’s so final. I keep wanting to defy “goodbye” by saying “see you later!”

Whether or not I’ll actually see them later, isn’t it nicer?

Oh, sentimentality! Oh, feelings! Oh, grasping at my life here!

How strange that after 5 months of adventures and learning and meeting people I find myself at the end feeling like I must have missed something because it doesn’t feel final. It feels like this is my life, and it will go on this way because that’s what life does.

But really, when has life ever stayed constant?

I don’t even know how to express this. There are just too many feelings, some of them without names. Oh, feelings! I’ll have to get back to you about how I feel when I know how I feel.

Parts of my heart.


I’ll be home in about eight and a half days. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance behind that statement, partly because I still don’t understand how air travel works (ya get on the plane in one place and get off in another… what?) and partly because there are so many pages to be written and little tasks to complete before I can leave that I feel the time must be longer.

But it’s not.

I find myself breathing a little deeper and walking a little slower and gazing a little longer. I’m trying to soak up the “old world” feel and whatever other intangibles make Graz the place it is. I’m trying to figure out how the heck I can fit all my belongings in my suitcase again… and have it not be overweight.

I just wrote three paragraphs asking myself where “home” is, but it got rambly, so I deleted it. It seems to me that the more places you go and the more people you meet from other places, the more your heart gets spread out. I’m sure this is true to a greater extent for TCKs and people who live in more places for longer periods of time, but I’m 20. This is what I’ve got.

And you’re still a whole person, you just have to reach farther to feel parts of you. Oh, that part of my heart is in Costa Rica. That part is in India. I left that part in Budapest, even though I was only there for a weekend. I know. I fall in love quickly. That part’s in Panama. That part that’s shaped like a baguette in in France. That part’s in Upper Austria. That part’s in Salzburg. That part’s in Chicago. That huge chunk is in Minnesota. That part is in San Diego. That part is spread out on every mountain I’ve ever been on. That part’s in Graz.

I think this is good, even though there’s a sort of fragmented sense to it all, because you don’t have to look in just one place to find yourself. You can find yourself just about anywhere. You see your reflection in the people all over the place, and that helps you to connect.

That might not make any sense. As I’ve said earlier this week, I’m running out of words. I’ll have to get back to you on this later.

With that, I’d better fuel up and use my remaining store of words on my Gothic Fiction paper.

Running out.


Around finals time of year, I start running out of words. It’s like between my classes and studying and reading and writing and note-taking and question-asking, I use up my quota for the day and just stare at the empty blog post form like, what is this for? what do I put in here?

It’s not even the really crunchy crunch time yet. I’m trying to abide by the tortoise motto, “Slow and steady wins the race” so that I won’t have to take a nap in the middle.

In other news, I’ve got pairs of everything left. 2 more of each day of the week. 2 more of each class. 2 more papers. 2 more weekends. 2 more weeks. I’m just a great big jumble of everything when it comes to how to feel about that. Part of my yearns for my family and the comfort of my room with its green walls and purple curtains and the bed that is mine and has never been anyone else’s. I miss my church community so much, too. That’s been one of the biggest gaps in my time here.

Then I have to remember, home isn’t perfect either. There’s a lot of responsibility and bills and work.

But it’s home.

But it’s not Graz. And I love Graz. And my friends I’ve met here won’t be there.

But my family will. And my high school friends. And work and church friends. And there’ll be good ol’ Minnesota.

But there won’t be 400-1000 year old buildings or cobblestone streets or German-speakers everywhere.

Right, there will be English! Oh, that blessed language.

But there won’t be bakeries everywhere. And cars won’t be required by law to stop once you enter the crosswalk. Heck, I won’t even be using the crosswalks.

But I’ll have Audrey again.

And gas bills. and no tram.

Do you see the dilemma? Going home is great… and horrible… and wonderful… and tragic… and heartwarming…. and heartbreaking.

I don’t know when I’ll be back here or when I’ll see these people again.

The best cure for this is to just live fully here for my last 14 days, to be all in Graz and all with the people here.

The packing begins.


It started today.

The Space-Bagging.

IMG_20140618_130425

IMG_20140618_131159That bag contains three sweaters, a pair of leggings, and three long-sleeved shirts. And it’s going to go in my suitcase soon.

I’m already at the point where I start packing. I might be good at packing light, but it takes me a while to pack. I think it’s the over-preparing, anxious, compulsively detailed part of my personality.

Plus I have to make sure early on that there’s enough room for souvenirs, because there’s a big bag of European things in my closet, just waiting to go to the States and meet their new owners. And any room not occupied by my belongings or those souvenirs will be filled up with Austrian coffee.

In other news, I have a referral to go get an x-ray from the doctor who still exists. And I’m giving my last presentation today. After this, it’s just editing a portfolio of 5 short stories, writing two 10-12 page literature papers, and taking an exam on intelligence.

Oh, yeah, and all those goodbyes.

But I’m not going to think about those just yet.

Onward!

 

Expectations.


In 19 days, I will be waving goodbye to Austria from my airplane at this moment, already an hour in flight away from here. As I drank my coffee and ate my müsli this morning (this is the bag of müsli I bought in my first two weeks, not realizing how many raisins were in it  – I only like raisins in small amounts – but I can’t waste it, so I’m slowly making my way through the bag before I leave), I thought back to what I expected to feel like at this point in my time abroad.

I imagined that being abroad would make me more adult, that I would feel like a seasoned guru of all things international, that I would be able to throw around foreign phrases in my speech in languages other than German, and I’m pretty sure in my imagination I had a different face, too. Funny how you expect yourself to become someone else.

In actuality, I feel like, though I’ve learned much and experienced loads and had my horizons broadened in many ways, I know less than I thought I knew when I got here. Perhaps that’s what happens when you broaden the field of what it’s possible to know. You realize you only have a claim on a very small plot of land.

I feel less like an adult, too. In Chicago and Minnesota, the places where I have responsibility for other people as well as myself and have structure in my life, I feel more like an adult than halfway around the world. Now that’s a game changer. I expected to come back ready to move out of my parents’ house and prepared to graduate college. But really, I realize how nice it is to have people who are partially responsible for your well-being and that I need the time before I graduate to figure out where God wants me to be.

I think the only thing that measures up with what I expected is that God would do amazing things while I am here. He has. He’s given me friends that I will have for the rest of my life, experiences I didn’t know to dream about, and so many reasons to trust Him. Isn’t that just like God? To be the only dependable thing in my life?

Balling and the number 1.


Last night, I went to a ball.

IMG_20140614_192505And people waltzed and danced and wore fancy dresses from places all over the world. It was the MultiKulti Ball, which means that we saw saris, dirndls, ball gowns, lederhosen, all manner of African apparel that I don’t know the names for, and just about any other outfit you can think of.

I stayed up til 2am, a rare occurrence. And this morning, I felt like I’d been up til 7 and had drunk copious amount. In actuality, I just had apple juice.IMG_20140615_113208That’s what happened when I tried to spoon yogurt on my müsli this morning. At least I know that I can’t do late nights very often.

The ball was worth it though. There was an orchestra and a jazz band and some mimes. We weren’t totally sure why the mimes were there, because they weren’t silent. They just wore all white and had their faces painted and carried chairs around and meandered from place to place all night, kind of like you’d imagine a court jester would act. Still not sure what was going on there.

Because food and drinks were expensive, we just got juice and soda.

Cheers. If you got alcohol, you got a glass, but juice and soda people got plastic bottles.

Cheers. If you got alcohol, you got a glass, but juice and soda people got plastic bottles.

Then, after we’d enjoyed some jazz in the library, we headed out for some sustenance. McDonald’s here is actually good. They have to source their food locally. I got mozzarella sticks, a salad, and waffle fries, all of which were very satisfying! We did stick out a bit in our formal attire though.

Good end to a classy evening.

Good end to a classy evening.

On the way there, Rachel (far left) and I walked while the other two went to grab a jacket, and we encountered a pair of guys who seemed to have had a little too much to drink. Contrary to my experience with the Jerkface the day before, these guys just waved at us from across the crosswalk while we waited for the light to turn green… for a solid two or three minutes. The only thing I could catch from what they were saying was, “schön”, which means “pretty.”

Much better than the day before.

Speaking of days, I am at the 19 day, 20 hour mark until my departure. Seeing the number ‘1’ in front of the number that says how many days left is a little disconcerting. Any other number seems big, but this one seems like the end is near.

In some ways, I’m ready to go home, and in some ways, I’ll never be ready to leave. There’s always more to experience, but I’ve had such rich and varied experiences that I can pause my international adventures in 19 days and 20 hours to go live a structured life again.

 

 

Sunset


I was hoping to wake up to a thunderstorm this morning. Instead, I woke up to the whir of yard work tools and a hot, humid bedroom.

It’s easy to say you love summer in the winter, but when it hits 90 degrees before the season officially starts, I have my reservations with loving summer. I suppose the season is better when you have easy access to a lake.

Yesterday was hotter and stickier, however, so I’m grateful that we have the promise of rain and cooler temperatures this afternoon.

I spent most of yesterday writing a paper about the East German secret police during the Cold War because *surprise, surprise*, it’s due a week earlier than I originally thought. It helps that this is a factual paper rather than an opinion paper, so it’s easier for me to write.

Then I walked through the un-air-conditioned city to a blissfully air-conditioned classroom to talk about Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People” in the Gothic Fiction class. Then I returned to the still un-air-conditioned but slightly cooler city paths to walk home. Cooking dinner was a hot task, but it was worth it. Then, as a study break we all needed, some of my friends and I hiked up the Schloßberg to watch the sun set.

It turned out to be a slight disappointment because, of course, though the entire day had boasted clear skies, the evening brought clouds to the west side of the city. Yes, right over the sun set. We ate strawberries while we waited for it to get pretty, though, and talked about school and weekend travels and how we really should be working on our papers right now, but we would rather be there.

Then, just as we were thinking we wouldn’t see any pretty colors, I caught a glimpse of pink and purple and ran to get a better view. Just out of our line of sight from where we were sitting was a little bit of pink, purple, and a cloudy ball of orange. So, we did get to see the sun set, even though it was less grand than we imagined. Apparently mountains affect how much you see of the sunset, something I never have to deal with in my Midwestern home.

 

IMG_20140611_204835

So, there it is: the sun set from the Schloßberg.

Then we got ice cream from our favorite place on Sporgasse (Erdnuss-Schoko for me… peanut chocolate) and walked to the Mur to enjoy the city a bit more. People were out and about, walking along the river, eating at the outdoor cafes on the cobblestone streets, having a drink outside since it was cooler than during the day. We joined their ranks and sat and talked for a while.

I’m slowly settling into exit mode, realizing that even good things come to an end.