The End: Semester One

I am sitting in the ISA office with six other students. Momentarily, we´ll be learning how to make Liege waffles with that magical pearl sugar. In 40 minutes, I have my last final at Vesalius College.

Last night, I went out on the town for the last time with other American students. There was a monstrous beer selection, an even more monstrous platter of absinthe shots, electro-swing dancing, killer kebabs and jazzy relaxation for the morning metro ride home.

Tonight is the Vesalius Winter Ball, with a fancy three-course dinner at the fanciest hotel in Brussels, and an all-night after-party with some 100 international students. It´ll be filled with awkwardly permanent goodbyes, because when am I realistically ever going to see that kid from Norway or that kid from Brazil again? Likely never.

The semester is over. And as a study abroad student staying for a full year, I feel real strange with all these goodbyes. Everyone should just stay here! With me!  Seeing my school´s population in January, with 200 fresh students, will be surreal and probably uncomfortable.

But I´m not thinking about that too much. This week has been a whirlwind with normal, constant studying for exams, and then saying goodbyes and doing things for ´the last time´with people. Then I´ve been slowly packing and moving, as I´m switching homestays next semester. And then there´s this whole 5-week winter break I´ve been struggling to adequately plan.

I´ll be backpacking through snow — a sight I haven´t really seen since I was seven — for two weeks. I won´t be blogging. So here is your warning, so that you concerned readers know I´m (probably) alive despite inactivity in the virtual world.

I´m flying into Vienna on Sunday morning. I´m exploring the city´s quintessential advent season for a few hours before boarding a train to Salzburg. Then there will be Munich. Then there will be Prague, for Christmas, in an unknown location with unknown sleeping arrangements — queue thrill and adventure and self-discovery. Then there will be Bratislava, and Vienna again. And then Brussels, and then blogging.

Happy holidays everyone.

Finding Utopia. Denmark.

Copenhagen is an oddball weekend destination for Americans studying in Brussels. Even the other European students I’ve met, with the exception of those from Scandinavia, have admittedly never made it to Denmark.

But those who have been all say the same thing: Copenhagen rocks.

It’s an incredibly accessible, charming city with more Scandinavian grandiose than you may expect. The city’s public transportation is modern and efficient, its shopping is elite and it houses one of the top restaurants in the world. Meanwhile, there are sweet, pastel town houses that make you giggle, and blue, blue canals that leave you awe-struck. There are huge parks with mini castles and other huge parks patterned with lakes. There are quirky hole-in-the-walls with fantastic coffee and even better pastries.

I fell in love with the city. Fast. Part of it might be because I didn’t enter a single museum all weekend. I walked through cobbled squares, ate pastries, walked through parks, drank coffee and walked some more. It was completely ideal.

In terms of pastries, may I recommend Sankt Peders Bageri? Reputed to be the oldest bakery in the city, the goods are located right in the center of town. I did not feel remotely bad about eating three of their buttery, flaky wonders in one day.

And I haven’t even gotten to the city’s top tourist attractions yet.

Yes, the “real” Little Mermaid statue is in Copenhagen’s waters, but the number one tourist destination is probably Tivoli, the historic amusement park for little ones. In December, Tivoli is transformed into a Super Christmas Market, completely decked out in twinkle lights, garlands and everything festive you could possibly imagine.

We were stunned. The photos cannot possibly do the park’s magic justice. In December after dark, Tivoli is winter wonderland.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Copenhagen also holds an alternative, autonomous society: Freetown of Christiania. Christiania is a large commune of less than 1,000 residents, regulated by its own special laws. People cannot enter the community without the support of everyone within and all decisions are made for and by each of its residents. There’s been a lot of controversy recently surrounding drug use, but regardless, it’s a funky, fantastic neighborhood. Hippies and artists can be seen crowding into smoky cafes, drinking chai tea lattes, or riding bikes with two wheels in the front and one in the back.

Is Christiania utopia? Who can really say. But with the smallest gap between rich and poor in the world, Denmark doesn’t seem too far off.

Ten Columns. One Post.

Since September, I’ve been writing weekly columns for The California Aggie, the student newspaper of my alma mater, UC Davis.

Every Thursday for 10 weeks, I dove into the study abroad experience as well as cultural and social discrepancies between my new and old homes.

These 10 weeks are over, and now the articles can be packaged and read like a neat bundle of thoughts. If you missed a column, or every column, I’m making the process of catching up extra simple.

Week One: Brussels sprouts
An introduction to me and the American fantasy of living in Europe

Week Two: Eco-What?
The oddity that is Belgian environmental consciousness

Week Three: The foreign prince
Playing make-believe for one-night-love

Week Four: Waffling around
Debunking the American conception of Belgian waffles

Week Five: Host mothers
Two topics in one: living with a host family and America’s drinking age

Week Six: Euro-Bro love
Europeans idealize fraternity parties, plastic red cups and all things bro-tastic. Who knew?

Week Seven: Surf’s up
An unpaid advertisement for CouchSurfing

Week Eight: The foreign prince II
Adjusting to the Belgian system of dating

Week Nine: Homesickness
The emotional phases that come with studying abroad

Week Ten: Bon voyage
What’s next for me and what I advise for you

Thanks to those who read, thanks to those who sent kind emails, and thanks to those in Brussels who answered all of my weird questions all the time.