The End (A Summary)

Views

This post will bring the total view count to over 2,000. Here is the map of views by country (click to enlarge). It shows where some of my study abroad friends travelled.

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Counter

  • 30,365– Words written on this blog so far (Animal Farm, A Christmas Carol, Of Mice and Men, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory all hover around 30,000 words which is why it’s ok that you haven’t read all of my posts and it is also the reason I didn’t really focus on sentence structure or anything or else it would be like editing a book)
  • 25 – UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Westminster, Tower of London, Kew Gardens, Sintra, Tower of Belem, Stonehenge, Bath, Serra de Tramuntana, Sevilla Cathedral and Alcazar, Toledo, Brú na Bóinne, Swiss Alps Jungfrau, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Skocjan Caves, Rila Monastery, Ohrid, Butrint, Gjirokastër, Kotor, Dubrovnik, National Park Durmitor, Mostar, Split)
  • 9 – Personal phone numbers that I’ve used as my primary number on study abroad (+44 7598736659 [UK], +44 7404245455 [UK old], +1 310-809-2668 [USA], a +1 (661) number on Skype, +351 915-406-195 [Portugal], +34 602-695-139 [Spain old], +34 611-291-985 [Spain new], + 41 76-735-8909 [Switzerland], +39 3273549533 [Italy])
  • 8 – Football matches (Crystal Palace x2, West Ham, Tottenham, Sporting Lisbon, Arsenal, FC Luzern, England National Team)
  • 7 – Airlines flown (United, British Airways x6, Ryan Air x3, Air New Zealand x2, airberlin, Easy Jet, American)
  • 11 – Currencies used (British Pound, Euro, US Dollar, Swiss Franc, Croatian Kuna, Serbian dinar, Romanian leu, Bulgarian lev, Macedonian dinar, Albanian lek, Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark)
  • 17 – Countries (UK, Portugal, USA [it counts], Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
  • 31 – Times crossing a national border
  • 13 of 20 – Passport pages used
  • 61 of 126 – Days of study abroad spent outside the UK
  • 6,440 (4,840 in the Balkans) – Kilometers travelled by car

Map (173 places marked)

Posts

A couple are password protected, so ask me for it if you want to read them

  1.  January 10, 2015
  2. Beach Front Property (Days 1-3) 
  3. “Soccer. No. Football” (Day 4) 
  4. The Takeaway (Days 5-7)
  5. London by Foot, not Meters (Days 8-10)
  6. A Night Off (Interlude #1)
  7. Potpourri (Days 11-14)
  8. Obrigado Portugal!
  9. Back in London and the Cliffs of Dover
  10. Hitting a Wall
  11. Pictures! Pictures! Pictures! 
  12. Not Much Going On This Week 
  13. Three Fifty AM
  14. Study Un-broad (I Love LA) 
  15. LA is ≠ LA ISLA
  16. Cruella Seville
  17. Pictures! Pictures! Pictures! pt. 2 
  18. Spanish Pan Niche Panache
  19. Stumblin’ ‘Round Dublin
  20. Pictures! Pictures! Pictures! pt. 3 
  21. Swiss Watches, Chocolate, and Alps (Part 1)
  22. Swiss Watches, Chocolate, and Alps (Part 2)
  23. Hello, Goodbye (Back in England) 
  24. Pictures! Pictures! Pictures! pt. 4 
  25. Chapter 2
  26. Protected: Things Getting Interesting
  27. Pictures! Pictures! Pictures! pt. 5 
  28. Papa Visits Me
  29. Julie Across the Pond
  30. Julie Across the Pond pt. 2
  31. Albania of My Existence
  32. Making New Friends
  33. Pictures! Pictures! Pictures! pt. 6 
  34. Hills and Mountains
  35. LA Abroad
  36. Protected: Stuck
  37. Pictures! Pictures! Pictures! pt. 7 
  38. High, Low, and End
  39. Countries by the Number
  40. –Panoramas–
  41. Study Abroad Q&A
  42. A Conclusion

A Conclusion

I’d like to start out by thanking everyone who made study abroad possible for me! Special thanks to the Academy; to the world’s best fans; to Dean Bogucki and Ken Yanes for helping me out with an impossible situation; to Dov Weinryb Grohsgal and Tara Zigler for all their help; to Nick Boddington for helping me get acclimated; to my parents for the constant help from back home via Skype and email and you know the whole raising me thing too; to Julie and Papa for keeping me company; to Michael Chang for letting me sleep on your floor even though I apparently snored; to the friends at home who either Skyped with me or kept me in the loop; and to all the friends abroad who made my travelling more enjoyable.

This post might be a bit underwhelming as I have a feeling that much of what I’ve learned here won’t be evident until years later. I’m not one to speak in platitudes just for the sake of it.

I returned to Princeton’s campus after a whirlwind few months. The first thing that gave me the distinct impression of “I’m home” was when I was buying some Nathan’s hot dogs at 30th Street station and they swiped my credit card, no more of that European insertion stuff.

When I got back to campus, it felt pretty weird. First off, I was sleeping on the ground in my own dorm room. Of course, the two students (both named Thomas) who replaced Hansen and me didn’t see it that way, but it was definitely my room as indicated by the futon, TV system, posters, and CA flag that I left behind.

It also felt more like visiting my high school campus than a return to college. I wasn’t really a part of campus and everyone’s lives had moved on without me. I recognized people and seeing me was (I hope) a pleasant surprise for them, but then they’d have to attend to their own upcoming finals. I think most friends were generally interested in hearing vague details of my trip up until the point where they stopped feeling happy for me and then started to feel a bit resentful – since they had finals to study for and I didn’t.

Ah, where to start? I guess the most obvious question is if I have changed at all. Do I have a greater understanding of the world? More mature? Worldly? Have I gained anything? Is anyone still reading this? Biggest success? Regret?

Unlike the previous post, I don’t think I’d even be able to answer these one by one, or perhaps I don’t even know the answers. Instead I’m just going to write paragraphs until I have nothing left to say.

Done.

Just kidding, sorry.

First off, I haven’t really spoken English in about a month. Other than the blog and Skype, most days in the Balkans I didn’t have more than one extensive conversation in English. I decided to stay in apartments (halfway between hotels and airbnb) rather than hostels. I wanted my own room and bathroom, they were cleaner, had parking available, and were only $5 difference. So I was on my own with no one to talk to, though I wasn’t lonely at all – except when I got sick in Split and just wanted someone to take care of me.

Most of the places in the Balkans I visited were off the beaten track, ranging from popular tourist destinations among Europeans (Croatia) to strictly local gems (Albanian Riviera). The choices of a solo roadtrip through the Balkans and staying in non-touristy places and not staying in hostels meant I wasn’t going to make new friends. I met interesting people to be sure (more than if I had travelled with a friend) but very rarely did I spend a significant amount of time with anyone else.

Was I doing this trip incorrectly? Well, perhaps in your eyes. My goal was simply to see the world and all of the decisions I made were to further that end. I’ve been told that the most memorable parts of travelling and my most interesting blog posts were the ones concerning interactions with other people.

Travelling alone and by car gave infinite freedom. Each day, I booked tomorrow’s lodging and decided what to do that day. No public transportation schedules to dictate times and possible destinations (the biggest factor). No debates about where and when to eat and rest. And it also allowed me to do things that no travel companions would have wanted to do. Staying in nice places allowed me to get enough sleep to enjoy the next day and be productive in down time with wifi when it was available. I could just leave stuff in the car and pack less in suitcases, yet be able to carry around more (I bought a soccer ball in, I think, Albania just to play around with). Anyway, those are the main decisions I made and why.

At this point in the post, I’m having issues figuring out what to write next. So maybe just do icebreaker questions and see if it sparks something.

Biggest regret? To be honest, I believe I did a great job in pursuit of my goal to see the world. Within the trip, I think I made the right decisions at the times given what I knew. A lot of it was damage control – my wallet stolen, tire worries, getting sick. But given my goal, I don’t have any regrets. So the only thing left to consider is if my goal was the right one. In many of the places I visited, there were super romantic spots and I would find myself as one of the only single visitors there. Of course, it would have been great to share my experiences with someone. Sharing experiences through this blog is not the same as true shared experience, but again, I’m independent enough to enjoy time alone.

Have I changed or gained anything? I’m not coming back a Communist. And I definitely did not bring any agricultural goods back with me through security.

I was never in doubt of my abilities to handle myself alone through the Balkans. There were numerous compromising situations – detained at the border, alone in the streets around high teenagers, without money or credit cards, pulled over for no reason, and many more. Each of them at the time were scary or nerve-wracking but I never got to a point where I was nervous I wouldn’t make it out of something unscathed. Perhaps the worst feeling was when a road closure in northwest Bulgaria forced me to travel by country roads (aka not roads) that weren’t even big enough to make it on a map. I budgeted it at about 50/50 that I either wouldn’t make it to Sofia or there’d be a flat. Papa was waiting for me there in Sofia. And this was without a phone, internet, spare tire, or knowing how to speak the language.

I’m guessing that all of this made me more mature, street smart, worldly, but I couldn’t tell you for certain. It confirmed that I couldn’t handle myself on my own. I’m not able to introspect enough to determine whether I have any type of improvement of character or skills. It doesn’t really matter.

You don’t go on a trip like this for tangible benefits. You just go to experience something new – which is the common theme for why I went on study abroad to begin with. That’s why I left LA to go to college on the east coast, I went across the pond to spend a semester away from Princeton, why I took new subjects of classes, why I booked a same-day plane ticket to Lisbon to travel on my own for the first time, why I travelled with friends other times, and why I went to the Balkans instead of Amsterdam or Paris.

Study Abroad Q&A

No pictures, so your tiny attention spans can just click the x now.

As a verbose child growing up, when I was asked, “How was your day?” I would answer, “Fine.” When asked, “So, what did you do today?” I’d say, “Nothing” or “Nothing worth mentioning.” Sure it may have been irritating but that still sounds about right to me. I’ve always disliked it when people ask me what I think of a movie within five minutes of it ending. Give me some time to let it sink in.

However, I’m mentally preparing for my return to campus and home, where I will face the equivalent question of “So, how was study abroad?” in which case I would want to shoot back “So, how’s it been here since New Years?” Neither question is really answerable – people will just answer “Uhhhhh,” “Good,” maybe “Great” even, or perhaps make a list of things that happened. If I answered, “Life changing” or “An experience of a lifetime,” both of which are probably true, I still wouldn’t be able to elaborate or explain on the spot, and I’m not a fan of hackneyed sayings anyway. This penultimate post is my way of personally working out answers to the questions that I’m inevitably going to be asked.

First off, this post will not have anything negative or about the difficulties of being abroad since quite frankly no one wants to hear about it. The only thing worse than listening to someone talk about their vacation is listening to someone complain about their vacation so I’m going to stay far, far away from that. Anything nuanced I plan to save for an actual retrospective post.

Okay. Since that first question was too broad, I think I’m going to just ask myself and answer questions that are specific enough to be answerable and then hopefully that can give me ideas as to how to answer the broader questions.

Self-referential

Why did you do a blog and post so much?

Ideally, I would be able to keep everyone who cared updated so I wouldn’t have to repeat specific stories a bajillion times. Since that obviously didn’t/wont work, it is also a memory-commitment device where I get to relive my trip forever and it allowed me to organize and post my photos as the trip went along so that (1) I didn’t have 2,000 photos to go through at once and (2) so the photos are not buried in my computer files forever. And lastly, it allowed me to evaluate my own experience and what is important to me real-time.

Entire Trip questions

Favorite Moment?

Coming home to see my friends and family after 4 months of not seeing them. 😀 I mean, having my wonderful sister visit me. I mean, having Papa visit me. I mean, yeah…You’re not going to get me to choose a specific moment, sorry.

How many times did you sweat through shirts?

Very astute question. This was a common theme throughout the whole trip, where something would happen and I would get super nervous and sweat through a shirt. It probably happened every third day while travelling for some reason or another – including every time I approached a border by car, when the car got pulled over, every time I thought I lost my phone/wallet/camera/passport, when I actually lost my wallet, when I got lost and daylight was running out, on a really curvy road, when it was sunny, etc.

Favorite Jaunt?

Lisbon, Portugal. This got super bonus points for being my first trip out of London. I was sick and tired of cold in January but decided the day-of to book a ticket to warm Portugal. I spent 4 days with good food, good location, a picture perfect itinerary, about 35-40 miles of walking around scenic stuff, and experiencing travel alone for the first time.

Most complicated trip?

The four-day Switzerland trip was almost as fun as the Lisbon trip. However, coordination with 7 other people made it more complicated than my 28-day trip through the Balkans.

Scariest moment?

Easy. Getting pulled over by the Romanian border police. Ask me for the password and you can read about it in the Things Getting Interesting post.

London

Where is Queen Mary?

Not quite sure why I didn’t provide a map of London earlier but here is Queen Mary.

2015-05-11 12.41.44

How was school? What did you learn?

Good. I was ahead in my major, so I was able to take classes that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to take and learn new things. The classes were British Politics, London Architecture, Modern Art, and London’s Museums. I passed every class, and I would like to highlight that I received a ‘B’ in spelling on one of my typed essays since they spell words differently here. The English system (both Queen Mary and friends at Oxford) has very little class or instructional time, and quite frankly, seems halfway to home schooling since you have to learn a lot on your own.

What’s your favorite part about London?

The pubs were a nice change of pace from the provincialism that is parties on Princeton’s campus. Public transportation was really good and fascinates me. Other than that, I didn’t really make friends with any locals or British students. Socially, all of the study abroad students found the British students much less welcoming to Americans than we expected. A British student only needs to open their mouth in America to be loved. I was on campus so little anyway (and sleeping when I was) that I really didn’t feel the need to push myself out of the study abroad cocoon.

Did you think London was the right choice?

Given that it had to be English speaking, I chose London basically because there is more stuff to do than in Ireland, Australia, etc. Yep, right choice. Same reason I chose Queen Mary over, say, Oxford and Cambridge, which are in the middle of nowhere.

Favorite Places

Where did you go?

Short answer. Here is the map of where I went.

Best food?

3 way tie. There was a Persian place around the corner that I went to every week and Persian is my favorite food. Bring me saffron rice and I will love you forever. Well-done and well-seasoned lamb chops at Mapo in Gjirokaster, Albania was my favorite individual meal. Then, the gelato, chocolate crepes sundae in Venice with Julie was stuff of myth. Honorable mentions go to the 3ish pound meat extravaganza sampler plate in Mostar, BIH and Maxibon – the Nestle Drumstick-equivalent in Madrid, Spain.

Favorite Place?

I need to split the favorite destinations into three categories and even then can only narrow it down to five in each. Evidently, after making this list, it seems that I like cityscapes the most, especially places without other tourists. Most of these places were small towns that I hadn’t heard of before that interacted with their idiosyncratic environments.

Most beautiful place?

  • Gjirokaster, Albania
  • Benyalbufar, Mallorca, Spain (a stand in for Sa Calobra and Cap de Formentor as well)
  • Burano, Italy
  • Grindelwald, Switzerland
  • Kotor Bay, Montenegro.

Favorite natural destinations?

  • Scokjan Caves, Slovenia
  • Belogradchik, Bulgaria
  • Ksamil, Albania
  • Tara Canyon, Montenegro

Favorite man-made destinations?

  • Quinta de Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal
  • Plaza de Espana, Sevilla, Spain
  • City Walls in Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Estádio José Alvalade, Lisbon, Portugal
  • Everything along the Thames, London (gotta get at least one UK thing in here)

Greenest City?

Dublin, Ireland

Best sporting event?

The West Ham-Everton thriller that went to extra time and PKs. Go Hammers.

Roads

Most Curvy Road?

Sa Calobra (Mallorca, Spain)

Hardest roads to drive?

Sveti Jure (Makarska, Croatia)

Kotor-Cetinje (Montenegro)

Veliki Štuoc, Montenegro

Most scenic road? – 2-way tie

SH8 (Albanian Riviera)

Cap de Formentor (Mallorca, Spain)

Worst Roads?

Albania and Bulgaria.

Worst Drivers?

Tirana, Albania.

Should I study abroad?

Yes.