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The Most Important Lesson »

Before I went to Japan, I always used to say

“No, I’m not someone who does stuff like that.” I used to limit myself like that and tell myself that there were certain things that I would just never do because they “weren’t me”.

I was wrong. Japan was a whole new, exciting world. I’d been there three times before already, but never for longer than two weeks. I guess I’d never realized, even though I loved Japan so much, that there was so much left out there for me to explore.

Six hours of class by day and karaoke parties or shopping at night was an entirely different kind of lifestyle for me. I’d never lived in such an exciting way before. I’d always felt tied down by the rules I’d been raised with and expectations of good grades and good behavior looming over my shoulder. Now, in a completely different country, I was totally free. I could just hop on a train anywhere anytime I wanted. There was no one watching over my shoulder.

So I did a whole bunch of things I could have never done at home, and it was fun. Sometimes I felt bad for betraying the rules I’d grown up with, but it was exhilarating. Most of all, no one could judge me because no one really knew me. They didn’t know where I’d come from, what I did all day, or anything at all about me. It was really freeing.

“I don’t do stuff like that” I would sometimes catch myself saying. But I could, I would always think to myself afterwards.

A friend of mine that I meant in the program I was on told me something really freeing. He told me that I can’t define myself by what I don’t do, because if I’d never done it, I’d never know.

I realized how limiting those words “I don’t” or “I can’t” were. I decided to stop saying things like that. I didn’t want to limit myself anymore or feel trapped and tied down. Of course following rules is important, but allowing yourself personal freedom is just as important. I think this is the most important thing I learned while abroad in Japan. I learned a lot of other things, but this is the thing that will probably have the most impact on my life from now on. I’m going to try going out there and doing more, I’m going to try going out there and being more.

Thanks to study abroad I really have become a better person, and I was really able to learn something that I think will benefit me for the rest of my life.

Sweet Aoteroa Bro »

This first picture is a typical image of what you can expect to see while wandering around New Zealand. Sheep, or animal clouds, are everywhere in New Zealand! In fact, I learned that the sheep to human ratio is 4:1. There are sheep covering farms, hills, roads and they occasionally insert themselves onto college campuses. I didn’t study abroad at Lincoln University but it is relatively close to University of Canterbury where I did study. Every now and then at Lincoln, few of our animal cloud friends would casually roam the pathways of Lincoln, investigate the exotic scents from the campus, seek out a meal in grassy areas, and then go on their way.

The first time I saw sheep was when my friends and I were on our way to the beach and we saw them migrating from one end of a farm to another. The white cloud smoothly walked in sync away from the road. On another adventure with friends, we actually stopped on the side of the road to take pictures of them. Along with taking pictures of the massive lake the sheep were near, or the mountain that sprouted out from the middle of the lake, as if it was its own little island, the sheep were a spectacle themselves as well. One sheep was the first to notice we were near and stopped walking to look back at us. Instantly afterwards, the entire herd of what looked like 200 sheep were gazing at us.

Upon returning from abroad, sheep are just as entertaining, and intriguing,  as they were since my first encounter with them. To me, they’re a symbol of my rural New Zealand explorations, my curiosity, and togetherness.

This is a picture my friend Andi took while we went hiking. I went on this particular tramp with a group of friends- Will, Gabe, Beth, Alexa, Kristina, Sarah and Andi. We were all both  international students and tramping enthusiasts. At Hanmer, it took us about 2-3 hours to summit to the top of Mt. Isobel, with me taking the longest because of my bad knees. Though it was physically tough on my part to climb the elevation, the view from the top was worth it. New Zealand is breathtakingly beautiful.

Sarah once described tramping as an activity that never gets old. Some people might think this is not true, like I did at first, but after a while you start to appreciate it more and more. Tramping has given me a deeper appreciation of nature and our environment. Tramping lets you experience the plants, animals, land and sea that make up the world around you. I got to see what New Zealand was made up of, literally. Nature shows us history, of what land and society used to be and what it used to look like. I really loved my semester in New Zealand in its modern developed state, but specifically through tramping, I learned to appreciate and love the older, historic and natural parts of it as well.

The University of Canterbury (UC) shows some striking resemblance to Willamette. The final image shows Ilam Gardens which is a collection of plants and trees that encompass the Avon river that runs through the University of Canterbury campus. Yes, there was a river that ran through the middle of campus, just like the Mill stream that divides Willamette into two parts. Also like Willamette, there were the ducks. There was also a university center building near the library and between it was a plaza. On the ground in the middle of the plaza sat a plaque of the University of Canterbury logo and a campus map. To the left of the library was a bridge that goes over the river and to the right was a tall clock tower. When I first noticed this, I was amazed, and wanted to investigate more similarities between my two schools.

I obviously discovered both differences and similarities as far as student activites and club life, residential life, academics, professors, resources and students. I liked the University of Canterbury more than Willamette, but I also realised that it’s pointless to compare. If I saw or experienced something at UC, I would think Willamette was disadvantaging me in that way, and that would make me not look forward to returning. On the other hand, if I saw something that UC doesn’t have that WU does, I would be discouraged from trying to enjoy being an international student there. Horrible study abroad politics there of course.

A famous Facebook quote states “comparison is the thief of joy.” This quote is fitting in my case, because I came to New Zealand for new experiences, not to do a comparative analysis.  Sometimes I do get frustrated with the Willamette community and environment, but being at UC taught me to enjoy what I have at both schools. Studying abroad means living in the moment, YOLO (you only live once), and enjoying all that is around you! Keep that in mind, future international students. Even if I didn’t have something that another school didn’t, I realised I should think positively about it. Instead of thinking of how a certain school might suck because of what they don’t have, I pushed myself to think of it as something I miss and would look forward to again at Willamette, or something I will miss when I leave, and should take advantage of it while I am at UC.  I might like UC better, but I became more grateful for having the privilege of being a student there and grateful for being a Willamette student who studied abroad.

If there was any lessons learned about my time in New Zealand it was that I genuinely learned how to be happy and I discovered new elements of my own personality, thinking, and behaviour. Though I learned about New Zealand’s people, culture, environment and history, I learned the most about myself. Studying abroad not only gives you a chance to explore a whole new country, but you get to see how you fit in that new place as you explore yourself as well.

My London Theatre Experience »

The Lift Part 1The Lift Part 2The Lift Part 3 When I was abroad in London during the fall I went to an intensive drama school. I am a shy, reserved guy so the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA)tested my comfort zone and brought me out of my shell more. One of the big challenges of theatre is learning to trust your fellow actors and this photo sums that up. I was practicing clowning skits with friends and one of my friends mentioned that he can do “the lift” from the film “Dirty Dancing.” Multiple people took turns being lifted by my friend, Zack Purdy. I normally would have shied away but I felt confident about “the lift.” Nervous but confident. As shown here, it took three tries to fully trust my partner and correctly accomplish the lift. Even though “the lift” experience wasn’t an official LAMDA classroom activity, it sums up my LAMDA experience in that I was always being challenged to bring more to the table in terms of performance, effort, and trusting my fellow actors.

I knew that this photo was taken but I didn’t know it was going to be posted on Facebook. At the time the photo was taken I felt  nervous and disoriented since I was higher off the ground than I wanted to be. After Zack lowered me down onto the ground I felt thrilled and way better about myself than if I had just given up and not attempted “the lift.”

When I go back to look at these photos I will always remember how much I learned about myself while abroad. I went to London to not just experience life in a new culture but to also put myself out there. If I had not gone to a tough drama school like LAMDA I wouldn’t have had the nerve to be lifted by someone else. I wouldn’t have had enough confidence in myself or the other person to lift me up but my London trip helped me become less shy and approach new, difficult opportunities. I currently really struggle with confidence and taking risks but LAMDA helped me realize that to accomplish a hard task, you need that “just go for it” mentality. My inspiration for this picture was to show that anything can be done if you just set your mind to it. That was something else I learned about myself while in London which is also the context for these photos. I have a long way to go but my teachers at LAMDA emphasized relaxing when approaching a new task. If you have a goal you want to accomplish, tensing up and letting your fear get to you will make that fear worse. When you relax and get out of your head, you’ll have an easier time working at it. Relaxing and letting loose are big challenges for me but my trip helped me become more aware of my tension and being in my head too much.

Special shout-out to my friend and fellow Willamette LAMDA attender, Karina Fathi, for posting the above pictures on Facebook.

Abundance of Diversity; otherwise known as Ecuador »

Diversity abounds in Ecuador. And I’m talking diversity in every sense of the word. From the people and culture to the ecosystem, diversity is everywhere. I mean where else in the world can you wake up on the Galapagos, have lunch in the Andes, and go to bed in the Amazon? I think that is what I loved most about my time in Ecuador; being able to explore the various climates and environments.

I lived in Quito. A busy, capitol city up in the Andes mountains of great historical significance (the location the French discovered and measured the equator). It is a city full of life, people and over crowded-buses. And I mean seriously over-crowded buses in which sweaty bodies pressed against you and if you didn’t use your elbows you would never be able to get off the bus at the right stop. But once you got off the buses and started to walk around, beauty surrounded you. From the Gothic style cathedral to the giant angel statue on the hill, Quito was full of wonders and rich history.

Although Quito was a wonderful place to explore, my favorite place that I visited was the Amazon. A plane ride, boat ride, bus ride, and another boat ride away, we had left the noise of cars behind and entered paradise. Through my host university, I got the chance to visit a research center in Yasuni National Park. There we were able to enjoy the natural beauty that is the Amazon. We had amazing guides that knew much about all of the flora and fauna that coexists in the rain forest.

As we walked through the trees trying not to disturb the life around us, sweating in the humidity, our guide would all of a sudden stop for what seemed to be no apparent reason. He would then proceed to pick up a lizard that I would never have spotted in a thousand years due to its perfect camouflage. Its skin the very color and texture of a leaf. Nonetheless, he had been able to spot it. He would then proceed to tell us all these various facts about the lizard; he knew more than even Wikipedia could tell me. In the two days that I spent there, I learned so much about the plants and animals. It was peaceful there and I felt that I could live there perfectly content forever. Sadly, when the weekend was up I had to return to the hustle and bustle of Quito. But luckily that only meant more time to explore other things.

I Had the Chance to Change My Fate (And I Did) »

We all love to hate a cheesy Disney/Pixar trope or  message (while actually kind of really loving it anyway). Although it wasn’t my first choice, I was really excited by the prospect of studying abroad in Scotland. And though I was offered a spot in Glasgow, far away from the Highland setting of Brave, I have to admit that when I first read the line saying “University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland,” all I could hear in my head was Merida’s brogue chanting, “If yeh had tha chance te chenge yer feit, woodjyoo?”  I can now admit with only a little embarrassment to most people who ask that this saying was a big inspiration during my time abroad. I wanted to make my time in Glasgow mean something. I wanted to explore. I wanted to grow. And I think I achieved all those things thanks to a corny slogan from a children’s movie (which yes, I did rush to see on opening weekend).

Moving overseas for 4 months is scary. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. And while it gets less scary over time, it doesn’t necessarily get any easier. Being over 5,ooo miles away from family, friends, significant others, favorite TV shows, familiar stores, and easy to understand accents was something that stuck with me during my entire trip. But a couple things that make all that seem a little less daunting are all the amazing people you meet and the incredible memories you make with them.It was hard to pick from so many pictures and memories, but below are just a few pictures of the people and places that made my trip pretty darn close to Disney Magic.

One of my favorite parts of studying abroad was the diverse group of people I befriended. In this picture, one of my flatmates, two boys from downstairs, and I went to Christmas carnival that was only a few minute’s walk from campus. I’m on the left, sporting my purple ‘do; next to me is Val from Bulgaria; next is Ronnie, from a town called Stirling that’s between Glasgow and Edinburgh; last is Steph from Inverness, way up in the Highlands.

I had to inclue a picture of the room in my flat of course! Each block had four flats of 6 people with a common kitchen/living room area and shared toilet and shower rooms. My flat was really eclectic and consisted of myself, Steph (Inverness), Annie (Edinburgh), Desi (Bulgaria), Angela (Spain), and Marie (France).

I went on several day trips all over the country in my time abroad. This is a picture I took in the small town of Inverary, on the way to the costal town of Oban. The town used to be located a little down the road, but one day the Duke of Argyll, whose castle was in the center of town, decided he didn’t like all those people crowding his space. Apparently, it’s good to be the duke as well as the king.

I was so lucky to be able to go home with my Bulgarian flatmate Desi for a week in December. Honestly, the only thing I knew about Bulgaria before hand was that Viktor Krum from Harry Potter was from there. The experience was absolutely amazing and not one I would exchange for the world. In this picture, the two of us and her high school friend Valentina are in front of a monument built in memory of the Bulgarian national hero Vasil Levski, who was integral in gathering support for the revolution against the Ottoman Empire.


Here are some photos I took from the Diren Gezi Park protests in Taksim Square and some captions with my translations or explanations.

Gezi Park 1

“Resistance is everywhere.” from Galatasaray fans. I noticed that while united by a common cause, most of the fans from Turkey’s three main soccer clubs identified themselves in different camps within the park.

Gezi Park 2

“This is a civil resistance, do not damage anything.”

Tayyip Istifa

“Resign Tayyip!”  Tayyip is the middle name of the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Capulcu Hotel

“Çapulcu Hotel”–Çarşı” The Çarşı is the fan club for the Turkish soccer team Beşiktaş which is especially known for its association with radical leftist politics, as evidenced in part by the use of the anarchy symbol in their name. It was members of the Çarşı who hijacked a police tank and used it to hunt down police officers with its water cannon and who commandeered a bulldozer and charged it against the police lines in Beşiktaş. The term “Capulcu” means “Marauder” and is a term that the protesters appropriated for themselves when Prime Minister Erdogan used it to describe them.

Gezi Park 3

“Here you may take action!”
also, right below it, “All Cops are bastards”

Fun Q&A About my year in the UAE »

Why did you decide to study abroad with American University of Sharjah?

Keith Fakhoury Camel

Read about Keith’s study abroad experience in Sharjah!

Keith: While deciding upon potential universities, the one aspect of the American University of Sharjah that captivated me was its appearance, gorgeous architecture and a breathtaking campus. The institution was founded by the Ruler of Sharjah and AUS President, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed Al-Qasimi, who grew it to be the top ranked school in the Gulf with the best professors in the world and the host of international engagements such as the MENA Economic Forum. As if these weren’t reasons enough, AUS was a stone toss away from Dubai, the international economic and entertainment hub that was always a vacation favorite of mine.

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.

Keith: Experiencing the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, on New Year’s Eve was the greatest, and logistically worst, experience during my year abroad. Several Friends had dinner at Dubai Mall, the world’s largest mall, which was unbelievably packed. Then, from a friend’s apartment at the Index Tower, we watched Burj Khalifa host thousands of fireworks. What an unbelievable sight! As beautiful as it was, the night quickly turned into a logistical nightmare as more than 5,000 people were bound for the metro system. It was hours waiting in line with inpatient people and cranky police officers with rifles. It was very intense at the time, but I personally grew from trying to survive that night and I relish the opportunity to talk about that escapade.

Describe your program socially and academically.

Keith: The social and academic aspects of my program were equally awesome and overwhelming. Most of my professors were superstar academics and professionals from Europe and America, included the former head trader at JPMorgan Germany, a partner at KPMG Netherlands, and other illustrious figures. Professors, like students, come from all four corners of the map. UAE is home to many professional expats and many of them send their kids to AUS, creating the most flavorful melting pot and social situation. In addition, every class had fewer than 15 students, making every session especially intimate and engaging.

The campus is bustling with dozens of student clubs, from the Emirati Cultural Club to the Entrepreneurship Club, giving the student body endless opportunities to network and connect with our peers. The biggest event on campus, Annual Global Days, provided a platform for various groups to showcase themselves and their homeland. Despite being entirely Jordanian, I was a member of the Emirati and Pakistani Club and performed their traditional dance at the event and had the most memorable of times. Overall, my time at AUS was a social paradise: constant desert parties, never-ending chai karak tea breaks, the most diverse melting pot of potential friends, and the Dubai nightlife.

Keith Fakhoury Fujairah Fort

Keith at Fujairah Fort with the Sheikh!

Describe your favorite must-have food that you tried abroad.

Keith: My must-have international food is Biryani. I first had it at Gazebo, a popular chain across the UAE. Initially, I was disappointed because it looked like a plain pot of seasoned rice. Dig in a little deeper and you’ll strike tender chicken or beef and feel like an Emirati who struck oil in the desert. Usually served with a side of salad and zesty sauce, it a dish I’ve always look forward to. I would eat it every day if it weren’t for those meddling carbs.

Tell us about any interesting cultural tidbits you noticed about your country.

Keith: Respect in the UAE is like tax in the US — everywhere and significant. Within the dialogue between Arabs, you’ll find an overwhelming amount of praising and complimenting between the individuals. However, that was taken to another level when I heard my Emirati friends speaking with their fathers. It sounded like they were speaking to the ruler of their Emirate! There was enormous respect present. It inspired me in my own relationships with my family. Cheetahs and tigers are common domesticated pets. Seeing a tiger on a leash as if it was an American household cat was startling! The parking lot at AUS was like an international auto show. I’ve never seen so many so many Maserati’s, Range Rovers, R8’s, and Ferraris in my life.

Backpacking to Lubanzi, South Africa »

One of my most memorable experiences abroad in South Africa was our hike to a village called Lubanzi from Coffee Bay. We packed our backpacks with a week full of gear, loaded the rental car and started the eight hour drive to Coffee Bay. We did not have any concrete plans as to where we would be going, and for how long, but we all had an excellent guide book, detailing places to stay and eat along the way. This trip we did not run into any problems on the road, and made it safely to Coffee Bay. The guidebook detailed an opportunity for a hike from Coffee Bay to a small village called Lubanzi, where we could arrange a home stay with a Xhosa family. It said that there was an option to hire a guide, but some people at the hostel we were staying at said that we could do it without a guide.

With this in mind, the five of us set off on the trail with the minimal directions that the hostel owners could provide. They told us to follow the goat trail along the coast and through the next couple villages. They assured that if we got lost, we could ask locals for directions and they would be able to send us in the right direction. After the first hour of hiking, we were unsure if we were taking the correct path. As we were walking through one village, a young man named Ronnie approached us asking if we needed help finding our way. This made it clear that we looked obviously lost. We explained that were trying to find Lubanzi where we would be doing a home stay, and asked if this was the right direction. He said we were a little off, but that he could help us get back on track.

Ronnie was wearing just shorts and a tank top, with no shoes or possession other than the frisbee he was playing with when we first saw him. We began our trek through the fields, rivers and hills, with Ronnie leading the way. We all laughed as we struggled to keep up with him, and I was constantly impressed with how strong his feet were. After hiking for about an hour with Ronnie, we thanked him repeatedly for his help, and asked him to explain how we would get the rest of the way to Lubanzi. He insisted that he take us all the way, even though the journey would take us all day. He appeared to be young, maybe 16 years old, so we pushed for him to go home so as to not worry his parents. Still, he knew that we would not make it to our destination ,and decided to guide us the entire way.

The hike was stunning the entire way, and we realized the whole time that we would be lost without the kindness of Ronnie, and his determination to get us to a safe place to sleep. The sun was setting quickly, and Ronnie warned us that we must hurry to get there before dark. We came upon a river that was too high to cross, so we took the scenic route around it, through another mountain pass.

The sun set and we reiterated how thankful we were for his help, as we would be entirely helpless without him at this point. We had NO idea where we were, or where we were going. A few hours after our assumed time of arrival, we found Lubanzi, and asked around to see which family we would be staying with. Our host family had already had dinner, so unfortunately we did not get to enjoy the lovely food they prepared for us. We insisted that Ronnie stay the night with us, rather than making the day-long journey home through the night. The next morning we all had breakfast together and said our goodbyes.

Lapland »

So I haven’t been posting as often as I should. I wanted this to be weekly, but it has become biweekly. You can attribute it to weak willpower, or excessive travel and socializing, (certainly not burdensome studies), but for whatever reason I have failed to update for the past two and a half weeks. Of course, I now have a lot to talk about, so I’m going to start with my trip to Lapland (2/24-2/28).
According to my mother, my heritage is largely dominated by Swedish and Norweigan roots- a bit from Poland, a bit from Scotland, but essentially a Northern European mutt. When it comes to my Scandinavian side, I hail from a particular region- a sizable northern area referred to as Lapland, which stretches from Norway in the West, all the way to Russia in the East. Included in it are northern sections of Finland and Sweden. Sweden is not a particularly wide country, but traveling to Lapland showed me that what it lacks in girth, it more than compensates for in seemingly unending length.
We boarded the train at 3:00 pm here in Linkoping toward Stockholm, arriving at Central Station at 5:00 pm. From there, we boarded an old, tinny, noisy train that would be our home for the next twenty hours as we traveled to the northern urban hub of Kiruna. I would like to make the geographic aspect of train ride interesting, but I really can’t. Traveling north is consists of a vast expanse of flat, snowy, wilderness. Loosely strung together by a series of increasingly isolated villages, the first fifteen hours of the train ride were made interesting only by the hilariously diverse group of fellow travelers (my travel group was only the start).
My companions were a motley, vivacious crew that represented three different continents, four different countries, and two rather different coasts of the United States. There was Florian, our alternately stoic and nonchalant friend from the northern tip of France, Evan, Noelle, Kate, and Catie, hailing from West Virginia University in Morgantown, Jess of Australia, and the aforementioned and excruciatingly polite Welsh mate Jethro. Our car was almost entirely composed of students; a raucous group of Spaniards and Germans, some Italians, and a few very disoriented Singaporeans who were in the wrong seats.
Several hours into the train ride, night fell, yet the train became, by no one’s measure, calm. The Spaniards and Germans took to playing some sort of drinking game with a deck of cards, consuming half a cardboard flat of low-quality, tepid beers that still seemed to get them quite drunk. Around one in the morning the train staff instructed them to put their brews away, and a pleasant silence fell over the train, which was now in the depths of a dark forest coated with white snow speckled under the insistent moonlight.
E.E. Cummings wrote the words “may came home with a smooth round stone, as small as a world and as large as alone”. Whatever you make of the words, their sounds, their verbal aesthetic is intoxicatingly pleasing. Once I read this line, I feel as I must repeat it incessantly so as to shake some pleasing wetness from my lips; it’s pacifying. When I woke at seven in the morning, I saw a sunrise that had a similar effect. A milky concoction of cerulean, cracked alabaster, and wet citrus rolled over the small hills in the distance. The hills were covered with thousands of short trees, which conducted the radioactive warmth of the morning sun like lightning rods. I stared for an hour, unable to let a moment of this escape me, pretending I was the only one on the train up early enough to witness it. It was easy enough to conjure this small fantasy; the only noise was the barely audible sound of hungover Spaniards, their lispy tongue easily reduced to sleepspeak by the willing mind.
We arrived in Kiruna around noon, a place that looks and feels like the top of the world. Not the Frank Sinatra “Top of the World”, but the raw, savage point where earth is entirely undressed and unabashedly emotional. Massive ice cliffs uncomfortably drilled into by rigs mining some deep ore, small, mild buildings that exist in denial of their surroundings, and an unflinching brightness that could not be attributed to any single source. Looking in the distance was mythically precious, but not so manicured as a cutscene from the visualization of Tolkien’s misty mountains; these were the real battlefields, stained beneath the powdered surface in dwarf and orc blood.

We went into a peculiar but cozy restaurant, with an hour to spare before our bus to Junosuando arrived. A pint of Mariestad’s brought some flavor to the bland, yet thick burgers we consumed as we looked out over the vast expanses of Hoth (the ice-world from Star Wars for you people pretending not know). The bus to Junosuando was another hour and half ride, topping off our travel at around twenty three hours, but it conveniently dropped us no more than fifty feet from our hostel door. A faint blue door marked the lobby, where a pleasant, small pale man named Mikael greeted us and showed us to our cabin.
The accommodations were better than expected- a large living/dining room with two couches, a love seat, armchair, and small but well-stocked kitchen. The bedroom held four bunk beds, and the living room couch had a hide-a-bed. By the time we were settled in, the sun was setting (approximately four o’clock), inviting a beauty equal to the sunrise described earlier. This time, I took a picture.

Despite mutual exhaustion from travel, with only three nights in Lapland we could not afford to waste an opportunity to see the Northern Lights. The hostel was just across the street from a massive frozen over river, which Mikael had told us was a good place to start searching. We explored the perimeter of the river for a while, riding these push-ski mobiles that I am not sure what to call. If anyone knows what the hell this thing is called, please let me know, because they’re awesome.

After scouting out entry points onto the river, we naively set out in our boots alone. The river was indeed frozen over, but the three feet of snow layering it proved highly permeable. To stay on solid ground we followed the snowmobile tracks, but even then every few steps or so resulted in a limb vanishing several feet deep. Perhaps this sounds a little dangerous, but honestly the worst consequence of the activity was snow covered thighs. After realizing the impracticality of venturing about without snowshoes, and seeing nothing in the sky, we went home and slept.
We woke early the next day to grocery shop, again taking the foot-ski apparatti down the main road to the local grocery store. After purchasing the requisite pasta, eggs and cereal we returned to the hostel to check out snow shoes. An English fellow working at the hostel fitted us all for snow shoes, and we took off on a hike loosely inspired by some words he murmured at the map. Perhaps Jethro understood.
We traveled along the river until we found a path going up a hill, which we followed into the forest. The mid-afternoon sun cast a warm shade of yellow over the dripping pines, lending the afternoon an eclectic energy that kept us hiking for hours. Strings of lakes, rivers, and tributaries all frozen over gave us bearings as we navigated through the trees. The natural beauty was striking, but even more attractive was the absolute lack of noise. When the group fell silent, it was easy to feel as if you had finally come across some of the last uncharted earth in existence.

We returned home and cooked a copious amount of spaghetti to the tune of Sublime and Modest Mouse. I scarfed down at least three servings before we head out on the officiated Northern Lights tour with our guide, the British guy who fit us for snow shoes. We took a creepy white van about a mile and a half out of town, and hopped out directly into a fiercely dark forest. We snowshoed through, every member of the crew sinking into a snow pit at least one. The forest broke into frozen swampland, which slowly transitioned to the riverside. At this point, our guide asked use all to fall silent and experience the silence; it was, indeed, a mystical quiet, until it was broken by an unmistakably low growl. I don’t know why, by this bearish sound could induce nothing from me but a terrible fit of giggles; while I’m sure some individuals were terrified at the prospect of being torn to shreds by one of the last remaining megafauna on earth, the irresistibly cliche essence of the moment got the best of me. After waiting several moments for the unnamed beast to disperse, we continued out onto the river. While it was a beautiful walk, we did not get the fortune of seeing the northern lights our second evening, and settled for hot cocoa and green tea under the glistening star scape.
Our final full day, we woke early to tour all the best sledding spots surrounding the town. There wasn’t anything particularly gnarly, but I found ways to make the somewhat timid hills seem more bullish.

That evening was our final opportunity to witness aurora borealis. My American friend Evan and I had been particularly determined all week, even setting out a second time the first night, but continuously to no avail. Lappland was gorgeous, a frothy white spectacle of what life is like in the forgotten corners of earth, but ultimately, leaving without seeing the northern lights would be like devouring a fluffy Angel’s Food cake and being mercilessly deprived off a tall glass of milk. No, failure was not an option, so I donned two pair of long johns, an underused but highly valuable pair of J-Crew flannel lined jeans, a thermal top, dress shirt, wool sweater, fleece, gore-tex jacket, cashmere scarf and sherpa hat and headed out into the wilderness for a third and final time. Aided by our snowshoes, we made quick progress across the lake; our determination to arrive somewhere where the lights were visible clumsily tied our sight to our feet, while overhead, the object of our desire slowly began to appear. Jethro was the first to notice, calling out as he stretched a brightly sleeved,lanky arm to the sky. The lights were truly a show- they began as a faint murmur of muted orange and gray, sheathed by a thin textile of black. After a few moments, the colors became more brilliant. We all lay down, eyes glued to the sky, as a series of red, green, blue and violent threads were spun through the black blanket of sky, guided by invisible needles. These emergent swatches of color would then hang there in the air, like shredded psychedelic curtains blowing in a cosmic wind.

The lights danced for a good forty-five minutes, leaving everyone satisfied, mystified, glorified, and undeterred by the creeping cold. When we finally returned to the cabin, a warm aura hung about the crowd as we traded experiences over rich Irish Coffees and under fleece blankets.

Sometimes it’s like waitin’ on a train… »

El Chorro

Waiting for the train home at the station in El Chorro, Andalucia