Frozen corn and bourbon

Some of the stumbling blocks that position themselves in one’s path when moving to a new country are distinct to being in that place, to trying to coax a familiar life from the depths of a place strange enough to make you nervous, but beautiful enough to make you want to try.

But it’s also become clear that some of the issues I’ve been grappling with during my two months in Sweden are problems that I would’ve crashed into searching for a thunderclap of clarity regardless of my location. Lund, Knoxville, some unknown location in the rest of world… After weeks of struggling with the very real task of defining my future in graduate school applications, I would’ve still pulled on my running shoes to seek peace in the sound of them propelling me forward across wet pavement. Maybe without the cold numbing agent drizzling from overcast skies in Sweden, I would have listened sooner to the creaking of my knee that was growing louder to accompany the slapping of my feet. But in all parallel universes, I think I would find myself, today, in the same position: propped up in bed, leg elevated on a pillow, duvet wrapped warmly around the rest of my body in contrast to the bag of frozen corn currently numbing my knee.

I think the difference between this warm life I’m now living and the ghost ships that didn’t carry me is how content I now feel. I came limping in from my run, chastising myself for such poor judgment, crinkling my nose alternately at the smell of the sweat-drenched shirt I peeled from my body and the crunch that resonated through my knee with every step I took towards the shower. I let a hot shower rinse the tears of frustration from my face and moved past self-pity and into acceptance. I sipped bourbon in my bed and eventually hobbled out from my solitude to find my housemates pushing furniture across the floor. What did I think of the couch facing the wall? The now naked windows that let in the low-angled light from the autumn sun?

I stood on one foot and strung lights across our ceiling. I hummed along to familiar music and scraped the seeds from a pumpkin, spread the puréed result across a pizza crust warm from the oven, watched Anna place bowls of the most beautiful beets, grown with love and patience, across a pizza and then cover it in cheese transported personally from Italy. We raced to crack jars of walnuts, finished the bourbon, instagrammed the shit out of a beautiful, steaming artichoke, laughed easily and stared greedily at the culinary masterpieces before us. “An organic experience in so many ways” was uttered from an earsplitting grin.

Pushing back from the table after scraping the last of the warm cake from my plate, I realized at some point that I had lost all timidity in admitting how much I enjoyed nights like these. Something at the very core of my being needs them, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude at having such an innate need filled so blissfully.

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I don’t mourn the departure of those ghost ships these days, or even wonder about their journeys. Nervousness has been replaced by easy comfort and candle-lit coziness. My body maintains its position that I am no longer a runner, but here in the yellow farmhouse in Sweden, I can’t even find it in me to fight this conclusion. My days are filled with so much more than endorphins, and while my swollen knee complains when I walk down the stairs and concrete images about my future are beginning to materialize, to my growing anxiety, from the abstract blur that’s been spinning above me for ages, I mostly just feel happy. It’s a happiness that’s unique to being here in Skåne, with my homegrown pizza-making Håstad family, sipping bourbon with a bag of frozen corn on my knee.

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Adventure for one

It’s now Day 11 of driving across the country via a very indirect route which sometimes involves doubling back to revisit places because, why not? Because I’m driving alone, and the number one advantage to this particular type of travel arrangement is that I get to call all of the shots! It’s a great exercise in forced decision making for the chronically indecisive, and it’s also a great exercise to build driving endurance for someone who previously couldn’t drive for more than an hour without having to take a gas-station nap. Just please, for the love of God, do NOT put on the BBC. The soothing voices of British men are basically anesthesia for me.

On Day 11, it has become evident that I actually really enjoy driving by myself. I owe this transition in my general attitude towards this endeavor to several factors. None of these factors has to do with self-reflection. A lot of people have said things like “I bet it is nice to have all of that time to think!”. This statement is incorrect. You just lost that bet. I have actually done very little thinking past “What album should I listen to next?”, “Can I make it to the next rest stop… No. No I cannot. But that truck isn’t letting me over to turn… Ok, waiting until the next rest stop.” In fact, that’s precisely what I’ve enjoyed about driving. It’s so mindless. It’s absolutely liberating to be stuck somewhere for eight to twelve hours with only one job: drive the car. While this liberating non-thinking has been happening since the very beginning, I think the soothing effects are just now beginning to set in. Drive for 11 days and you will feel wholly new.

And also, by Day 11, you are driving through the most beautiful scenery! Montana, Wyoming, Colorado… My general procedure for driving through these states is as follows: 1) Turn the corner. 2) GASP. 3) Take car off of cruise control. 4) Rubberneck at the mountains for a few seconds. 5) Realize that during this process, I’ve dropped to ten miles below the speed limit. 6) Move to the right lane and smile sheepishly at the angry driver that passes. 7) Resume my one job, driving the car.

You are almost always entirely alone on these roads. That means that singing in the car (which you have gotten gloriously good at by Day 11) can now be augmented with two-handed drum riffs because the roads are straighter than ruler-drawn lines, requiring only your knees to steer down (take a deep breath, Mom, I’m a professional). I once screamed Alanis Morissette lyrics out the window at a buffalo lumbering down the side of the road, and he wasn’t even scared one bit, so I proffer this as evidence of my superior car-singing abilities. They don’t work outside of the car though; I checked.

I think I’ll wrap this up with two stories about how my solo trip across America has affected my confidence. First, I would like to release the credentials for my preferred hiking partners (in my current state of having 1.5 knees): 65 years old, active (evident by size of calf muscles), carrying a backpack that looks filled to the brim with shareable snacks. These guys are great! They take lots of breaks, move fairly quickly when not taking breaks, call you “honey” a lot, and GIVE YOU COOKIES. The emphasis on that last bit was deliberate. And throughout your entire hike, where you never once have to request a photo-break because those suckers have their photo-op senses dialed in, they ask you all about your life and then reward every tidbit of personal info you provide with “Isn’t that amazing?!”. Connie will also call you”brave” several times for driving across the country ALONE. By yourself. With a vagina. She’s expressing a sentiment that many gas station attendants before her have voiced. You will make Connie feel good by reminding her that the rhetoric of her generation’s bra burners paved the way for you to attempt such a feat, alone, by yourself, with a vagina. It’s truly become one of my favorite hobbies, this hiking with the SCs (senior-citizens) business. What a confidence boost!

Finally, I am currently riding through life at maximum self-confidence levels after this evening. You see, I was driving through Montana (or it could’ve been Idaho), and the sun was beginning to set, meaning that the surrounding mountains looked absolutely incredible. I saw a BLM campground turnoff (read: FREE CAMPING), and thought, “Why not stop here for the night?”. I’ll tell you why NOT to stop at this specific place in Montana/Idaho for the night. I pulled up next to this surely abandoned trailer, complete with bullet holes through the shell. I got out of my car to take a picture of what I was sure was the most beautiful campsite I will ever camp in ever and was immediately greeted by crunchy Cheeto-sized mosquitos. While I was beginning to think about life with the Zika virus, the door to this actually not abandoned trailer opened, and out stepped a shirtless man with dangerously saggy pants, a beer bottle in one hand and a leash attached to an actual cat in the other. I’m pretty sure I vocally announced “OH HELL NO” and jumped back into my car and pulled away while simultaneously closing the door. Fuck that shit. But now we all know that I am capable of saving my own ass, and don’t worry, I’m stopping at LaHood tonight, which is an actual place in Montana and sounds so much safer, amiright?

And about those mosquitos… This is a friendly reminder to scrub off the constellation of dead bugs scattered on your windshield every time you stop for gas. Otherwise, you’ll turn on your windshield wipers, and that action will produce this grinding noise that sounds like when you desperately try to use your windshield wipers to scrape the ice off of your windshield. Your windshield wipers will do no good in either of these instances.

This concludes another overly-long PSA. Thank you for sticking around.

 

 

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Running from emotions and holding them back at arm’s length to get a good look at them are two very different things. The first is born from terror and desperation, the second is born from exhaustion, from an attempt to regain control. It’s harder to be afraid of things after bathing them in a spotlight to scrutinize and confront fears.

But it always begins with running. I have to be pushed to the point of spending my last ounce of energy and willpower on escape. Running becomes my last option, even though I’ve known from the beginning that it too will fail to right my world and hold my head above water any better than the rest of my abandoned attempts.

It’s not as if I haven’t had this gut feeling from the beginning, an intuition if you will: these are the things that aren’t making me happy. These are the people that are mirages, wisps of smoke that dissipate at the very moment that I reach out in desperation. I’ve stepped out from behind my shoddily built facade enough times to collect enough opinions, to confirm what I’ve suspected all along. I’m depressed.

I’m hopelessly out of my comfort zone, reeling from the blows that I can’t escape while simultaneously pinned down by the weight of it all. I feel this new color more keenly than I’ve every felt any other. Yellows and oranges and vibrant greens have long since faded to blue, and now color altogether comes in less frequent waves.

I used to think that I felt this way because I wasn’t strong enough to pull myself out of my own thoughts. I used to be embarrassed. I’ve never once been short on strength, determination, grit… I’m stubborn to the point of stupidity. But I now realize that my reliance on strength has become my weakness. Maybe the ‘toughest’ are more susceptible to falling into these deepest holes because we believe that we’re immune. I can’t muscle my way out of this one, try as I might.

And now… Now I’ve grown tired of running. Running isn’t even the right word for this sensation, better stated as being chased. I’ve turned on my heel and announced that I’ve had enough. I’ve put out my hands out to keep that gray haze from smashing into me. I want to stare it down, tell it I know what it is and that I’m no longer afraid, to show that I’m ready to fight. I’m ready to fight myself and do the work that depression signals needs to be done. By God, I’m going to give it my best fucking shot.

I won’t think myself into a downward spiral. I’ll call my own bullshit when those needling thoughts first begin. I’ll trust in others, but will no longer misplace my trust. I’ll simplify, following the time-tested advice suggesting quality over quantity. I’m too smart (or cynical?) for distractions.

This is depression, but while it should never be a lifestyle, I would be remiss to say that I want it to disappear. Without such profound sadness to force me to evaluate the life in which I choose to wrap myself, I would without a doubt fall into a thin and fraying happiness, oblivious to the fact that it would not hold my weight. Hard-won changes make for the sweetest victories, for  newly honed senses that pick up on the tiniest instances of beauty. That is where I’m headed. Over there, above this depression, a world literally meaning a low point. Climbing above it one intentional change at a time.

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Venture into the (Un)known

Set your gaze on the next hold. Inhale. Push forward, up, reaching… every muscle fighting for the same thing, together. Grab on with one finger, then two. Don’t let go.

My life is a synergistic mingling of everything that I do, think, and feel. The whole is bigger and stronger than the sum of each individual part. Running makes me better at yoga, which builds a foundation of strength, balance, and flexibility for climbing, which all keep me sane.

Inhale. Reach with all of your might and focus as if the very act of willing yourself forward will push you to the next hold. Exhale. Don’t let go of how it feels to fight to be there, to be there, to move on.

I’m a better scientist because of all of the time I spend not thinking about science. Yoga has taught me a new way to muscle through confusion and complexity in the articles I read and the ecological paradigms in the middle of which I find myself. Wiggle around, find your limits, and then stare at them. “Sit with the tension”, as we’re told in Yin yoga. In refusing to leave, feel your boundaries inching farther away from you. Go through that structural equation model again, a third time, a twenty-fourth time, and you’ll know when you’re there. Sink into the understanding of it all. Love the poses and exercises that challenge you most.

Inhale. Think of each muscle and ability that you’ll need in the coming explosion. Picture yourself erupting from a reserve of energy that you aren’t quite sure you even have. Imagine what feels like to be there. Exhale. Get there.

I find mental and emotional balance through a raw reliance on my muscles, the physical nature of my body’s mechanics, and the way my mind interacts with it all. When I sweat, I release anxiety, anger, desperation, frustration, deep-seated sadness, lack of confidence, fear, happiness, excitement, and an indistinguishable conglomeration of all of the above. Long runs burn through everything inconsequential and leave me with the issues at the heart of my most disturbing feelings. Grunting with exertion as the pads of my fingers shake and tremble in the ascent of a route illuminates the crux of life’s most pressing issues. With the spotlight on that problem, there’s nothing left to do but go for it. Dyno. The worst that can happen is a nasty fall, but you were down there once too. It wasn’t so bad. You lifted yourself out.

Inhale. Look down. Follow the rope’s path leading down below to the one holding you up. Smile at her. With that smile, say thank you, I love you, I’m going to make you proud,  I’m not yet done with this one. Find courage there. Exhale. Look up.

At the very core of who I am, my passions make me a better person. Running, climbing, learning, falling, and yoga expand the physical realm of possibilities for my body while allowing me to top-out and take in a holistic view of what I’ve accomplished. They allow me to love deeper and with more vulnerability, to dream bigger and with intent and strategy, to support those most important to me with my love, to match each of their successes by taking in the slack and offering them heightened support as they clamber ever upwards towards the people we will become.

The journey is the adventure. We’ve been here before, just in a different context. Breath like you did to get through the tension in the past. Throw your weight into the muscles you know will support you. Have confidence in the abilities that you’ve spent endless moments refining. Leap because staying stationary has begun to feel uncomfortable and wrong. Leap because movement in any direction feels better.

Leap because living, pushing, tugging, lifting, grasping, gasping, breathing through it all is the most honest definition of what it means to be alive.

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Tasting Culture From My Coffee Mug

The trick, I’ve found, to comparing cultures and truly appreciating their unique aspects is to find some common ground, something consistently valued in each place. And why not make your study subject something that you also value, something that you love in all of its forms? For me, that’s coffee.

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Coffee is a truly powerful substance… A liquid whose presence (or absence) can be a game changer for a long day, a cold day, a gleeful day, or the start of a day whose contents are yet unknown. I’ve been able to find coffee (instant coffee, in some cases, but it counts) in every culture that I’ve encountered. I was introduced to coffee via a French press in the woods of Maine, and enjoyed buying whole beans by the pound from the organic, bulk foods grocer in the small town of Dover-Foxcroft. I packed my French press and a good amount of coffee into the backcountry, mug dangling from a caribiner clipped to my pack, preferring the extra weight over cold mountain mornings without my morning brew. I met a family whose livelihood was based on the little red coffee beans grown on their farm in Costa Rica, saw the coffee rust fungus that threatens coffee production everywhere, and appreciated the unlimited coffee at the La Selva research station despite the heat of the tropical rainforest. I consumed several jars of instant coffee in China, feeling that if I had to boil my drinking water anyway, a few spoonfuls of Nescafe would make the process exponentially more enjoyable.

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In Europe, I treasured the way that the entire coffee drinking experience varied from culture to culture. Perhaps the word, and the plant origins of the drink, are the only commonalities. Kaffe in Danish, kaffi in Icelandic, káva in Czech, café to the Spanish, add a letter to order Italian caffé, kaffee in the German speaking Alps of Switzerland. On this continent, they make their coffee one way: strong. To get a steamy cup of the American equivalent, the barista will add water and hand you an Americano, but I find the irony embedded in this caffeinated metaphor to be too much. Eventually, you learn to throw back that espresso shot like a true European, stone-faced, and without the grimace.

In Copenhagen, drinking coffee is a defense mechanism against the unforgiving winter winds. Hands clasped around the clear glass cup of Danish kaffe, one is reminded of summer and endless hours of sunlight. Armed with a warmth emanating from the inside, the Danes drain the last drop of kaffe from their cups and wrap their scarves around their necks, stuff their gloved hands in their pockets, and stride out of the cafe and into the biting winds towards their bicycles.

The coffee of Spain and Italy required milk to appease my growling, empty stomach as Niki and I shook off sleep and shared smiles that merely hinted at how unbelievably grateful we were to be experiencing those European adventures together. The smiles of the baristas did as much as the earthy, warm liquid to recharge my soul in preparation for another day of overwhelming bliss and wonder.

As I pull on a sweater and amble down the stairs from my attic room in the Swiss farmhouse at which I’m staying, I hear the grinder on the espresso machine hard at work. Perhaps the presence of such an elaborate espresso machine, steamer angling off to the side, but the lack of a dishwasher in the farm’s kitchen says something about my Swiss host’s priorities, and I must say that I agree completely. In the Swiss Alps, kaffee requires a set of silverware all to itself. Coming into the kitchen, a tiny spoon rests on the saucer next to my fresh cup of kaffee, a utensil whose sole purpose is to stir the raw milk from the neighbor’s cows and the lumps of sugar into the hot drink that will soon magically erase the aches and grogginess that the morning inevitably brings. Kaffee mug in one hand, I reach around the vase of alpine wildflowers to grab a slice of fresh bread, also warm, and sit back in my chair, completely content with life in that moment as I watch the sun chase the dew off of the mountain meadows.

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One’s need for coffee, and preferred coffee form varies with occupation, too. For the traveler: large cup, strong brew. For the student: strength is all important, though lack of quality is sometimes forgiven if consumed in huge quantities and with concerning frequency. For the rainy days spent in the company of a good book and a warm blanket: something intricate, coffee that’s been roasted to bring out a unique flavor whose identity is interesting and elusive enough to be contemplated as the mug is slowly emptied. For the urban explorer who eagerly steps into the prefect looking coffee shop in search of refreshment on a summer day and a comfy chair in which to collapse: something iced, maybe a latte or a mason jar of cold brew. For the hiker stepping into an alpine hut, soaked through from rain and snow, weary from ascending several hundred vertical meters: nearly any cup of coffee will taste like God’s gift to mankind as each sip brings the mind and body closer to recovery.

It’s really simple, to me. If you share my need for coffee in the morning, coffee in the afternoon, coffee late into the night, if you enjoy its taste and appreciate the craft involved in brewing the perfect cup, if you find the coffee shop curators, the student baristas, the local roasters, the Central American, South America, and African coffee bean farmers to be interesting and all important, we’ve got quite a bit in common. Sit down with me and a cup of my favorite liquid experience and let’s chat. I’m sure what ever differences we have are bridged by more than just a love for this beautiful drink.

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I’m in a serious relationship (with my running shoes).

Yes, I know, what a tease of a title. My apologies. But you should keep reading.

I’ve always been attracted to running, as a sport and a lifestyle, because it asks very little from you in terms of talent. Anyone can be good at running. I’m a firm believer that a large part of being a first-class runner lies with the runner’s mental capacity to push through pain, to be able to persuade your feet to keep plodding along even when your lungs are gasping for air as they labor to keep up. That’s also why running is truly beautiful. Beautifully simple. It’s an understanding between your mind and your body, an agreement between endurance and your legs, a promise that your entire being will be rejuvenated after this release of energy. Running is an escape.

My adventure-chasing side kick and I made a commitment to running in March. We signed up to run a marathon, unleashing a whole new dimension to my relationship with running. It’s the equivalent of dropping THE “L” word, or maybe it’s an early indicator of mental instability. Those in love are rumored to be crazy anyway, right? But all jokes aside, my training has brought me to a whole new level of peace, balance, and holistic healthiness.

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My running shoes and I meet up daily, but our dates consist of some weird combination of physical discipline and mental release. While running, I feel as if my mind is blank, that my mental focus is solely on my breathing and the rhythm of my feet propelling my body across the pavement. Yet there is undoubtedly some sort of subconscious meditation going on as my running shoes eat up the distance. After a run, all mental problems seem to have worked themselves out. The profound nature of this endorphin-driven peace washes over me as I collapse in the grass, stretch out my tired muscles, and walk home.

My running shoes aren’t the jealous type, either. They don’t begrudge a day spent in my hiking boots, Chacos, or climbing shoes. I think the shoes understand that I’ll be back, even more ready to chase my thoughts and the afternoon sunlight across whatever town I call home at the moment. Though my running shoes are imprinted with the memory of the shape of my foot, my soul remembers what it feels like to run barefoot along the Tennessee River in Knoxville’s Sequoyah Hills Park, and I do miss that more than I can say.

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Running allows you to experience new places in a deeply meaningful way. My running shoes and I have run along the shoulder of Maine’s winding, forested roads. We ignored the weird looks the Chinese scientists gave us as we ran across the Institute of Applied Ecology’s campus in Shenyang. Running has allowed me to explore corners of Copenhagen that I would never reach walking, or that I might miss as I bike swiftly past. It is my running routes and trails back home, in East Tennessee, that I remember with the most detail.

Running is a minimalist sport; tie your key to your shoes or tuck it into your sports bra. Leave that shirt behind, because the feeling of your pony tail sweeping across your back and the wind on your stomach is invigorating. Leave those afternoon plans at home for an hour or two, but bring all of your stress and frustration and anger, because your legs and your lungs and your soul know that the wind will take those from you too as the sweat runs down your face. My running shoes are the vehicle for the balance and mental strength that I need to survive, and in turn, their only request is time. Time, and commitment, and ok, a few weird tan lines. 26.2 miles might be a rather large commitment, but I don’t doubt the tying of that knot. Training is teaching me the discipline required to be genuinely invested in this athletic relationship, and every afternoon as I tie the literal knots of my laces, I understand a little more deeply what my running shoes have done, are doing, and continue to do for my life. Running isn’t for everyone, but everyone NEEDS an equivalent to running. This kind of serenity magnifies the meaning of every other aspect of my life.

 

 

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København: The city that taught me who I am.

So let me begin the insurmountable task of describing myself, who I’ve become, on the other side of my semester in Copenhagen.

I arrived in January with a heart full of the wrong kind of emotions, feeling terrified, and a little unsteady after another academically brutal semester. The city looked gloomy and uninviting, and the sun had disappeared completely by 4:30 pm. But if there’s anything positive that can be said about jet lag, culture shock, and unforgiving Scandinavian winters, it’s this: the abstract fluff that normally surrounds and insulates life is ripped away, and you’re left with a really simple evaluation of what you need, as a person, to thrive and be happy.

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That list of needs starts with the bare minimum. I found that I need wool socks, another layer of pants, sleep, coffee, food. After a few days of satisfying those demands, I then realized that I also need to drink hot chocolate with my roommate after classes, I need to run and let my legs and mind stretch out across the city’s streets, I need to get lost wandering around the city, I need to be shoved out of my comfort zone to breath the air that’s circulating out there, laced with an invigorating mix of adrenaline and eye-opening emotion. I need to love and be loved, and it turns out that such love is never too hard to find. I need to curl up with a cup of tea to read a good book, think about my day, or not think at all. Sometimes I do need to cry, but more often than not, it’s because I’ve encountered a moment of overwhelming beauty. Tears are essentially an inextricable part of being present in those perfect moments, especially when life fires them at you relentlessly in a storm of sublimity for four months.

I began to feel like I was interacting with the city. I could feel it beckoning me forward, promising adventure and the occasional rain-soaked day, but always offering unforgettable memories that need owners. Copenhagen was becoming my city, and I was offering it my heart.

ImageI remember how I felt when I had been stripped down to my most basic existence. I remember feeling happy in that simplicity, but I also remember appreciating, truly respecting, how mind-bogglingly complex happiness is. Looking back, I can identify moments where I grabbed hold of new layers of happiness and spun into them, wrapping myself in that one feeling that is paramount to our existence as humans. That’s what falling in love feels like. I remember each of those moments exactly. Most of the time, it was a decision made in the blink of an eye: a decision to trust blindly, a decision to love without caring if that love would be returned, a decision to be vulnerable. And most of the time, it was a decision that my heart had already made, and one that my head was finally coming to terms with.

I fell in love with my city. I fell in love with the snow, rain, sunshine, sleet, and clouds alike. I fell head over heels in love with my beautiful friends with whom I explored Copenhagen and saw Iceland’s Northern Lights. I fell in love with small, forested deer parks and enormous glaciers. I rediscovered the strength of the love I have for my friends back home. Every meal was essentially a love affair, whether it was vegetable soup on the floor of my room or an elaborate lunch in a Danish countryside estate. I fell in love with the welfare state and solidarity, and I also came to appreciate aspects of my own country as I saw the US through the eyes of Danish citizens.

I love learning, and I love school, but that love is in no way undermined when I place other priorities before my transcript. Life’s most important lessons aren’t taught in a classroom in the city center, nor is my life defined by the assignments that I agonize over in the pre-dawn before a due date. My life is instead defined by the moments when my heart skips a beat as I watch the sun peek around Copenhagen’s abundant clouds, when tears sting the back of my eyes as I share beautiful moments with beautiful people. I define my life when I take risks and hold my breath as I reach for new opportunities, when I present myself in an unreserved, unashamed way that gives new friends the opportunity to love me for who I truly am.

ImageI’ve learned things, too. I can make left turns across the biggest, baddest streets in Copenhagen without causing traffic jams. I’ve learned to navigate through the city, and I’ve learned when I should stop for directions. I’ve learned how to regain my balance and prevent a bike wreck after a shaky start, and I’ve learned when to bail, let my bike crash to the street, and land on my feet.

I’ve learned how to find happiness within myself, and how to inspire happiness in others. Gloomy weather, cold winters, rain pouring like cold tears from the sky, ocean separating me from my Appalachian mountains, be damned. But, as I’ve discovered, the key to finding happiness has been the real kicker. It’s something I’ve done accidentally, keeping with the trend that some of life’s most important events occur because of pure coincidence, or fate, if you will. You’ve got to put yourself out there to be smacked in the face by life. Be vulnerable. Let it wash over you, panic when your lungs burn for air, but keep swimming towards what you perceive to be the surface. The surface of life, having pulled yourself through vulnerability, is more genuine and spectacular than anything you’ve encountered yet. You dance when you want, you cry because the roadside flowers look especially beautiful today, you dole out hugs like a paid distributor of love. You wear Chacos and flannel in Europe. You listen to emotional music on the train and let a tear or two slide down your face. You wear a truly ridiculous smile on your face, even when biking in a downpour, even if all passerby question your sanity as a result.

And you meet the greatest people, the ones that support you and push you back into the game of building your own happiness. The ones with whom you share moments of ecstasy, the ones with whom you giggle and laugh and smile, and yes, those with whom you cry and who make you cry when they’ve left. The souls you adhere yourself to, having resurfaced after plunging into the cold harbor of new experiences, are the brilliant ones who see beauty in your intelligence, who understand you on a level that you will never comprehend.

ImageSo you see, that’s what it’s been like to spend four months in Denmark. Grasp my hands and look into my eyes, and I’m convinced you’ll see some of this fire pouring out through my pupils. If not there, it’s spilling forth in a warm hug from my burning heart. Maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of the difference that these four months have made when my lips can no longer hold back one of those goofy smiles. To keep this semester to myself would be an act of reprehensible selfishness, so I’m bringing it back to give to all of you, wherever you are.

Here’s to loving life so much that it physically hurts, and here’s to Copenhagen, my saving grace.

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