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Category: USAC

My Venture into the Arctic Circle

My Venture into the Arctic Circle

Tromsø, Norge: Feburary 9-12th, 2017

I am getting more and more convinced that I belong in the arctic, especially after my visit to Tromsø, a city located in the far North of Norway. My friends and I wanted the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, and like most students who wish to see them, we planned a trip to this Arctic city. Originally it was going to be me and 10 other guys, but then my German friend Carla asked if she could join the week of our departure, and so it was 12 of us in total venturing North (so many people!).

My friend Trond (also from Colorado, surprisingly) and I booked our flights together so we had seats adjacent to one another. He had the window seat, but as we were flying into Tromsø, I was able look past him to see just how untouched the landscape was for miles. There were pure, snow covered mountains as far as the eye could see. My excitement for the trip kept rising the longer I stared out the window.

The view from the window of the plane as we were descending into Tromsø.

When we arrived in the airport, it took a little while to get the keys to the two cars we had rented for the trip but then we set out for our accommodations. I was included in the original car rental group: Graham (Vermont, USA), Trond (Colorado, USA), Brad (Florida, USA), and Will (North Dakota, USA). We decided weeks before that we wanted to rent a car to be able to ski and hike the dope mountains outside the city. The other guys on the trip decided last minute to rent a car and unfortunately Sam (our quirky, lovable Australian) was accidentally left out and thus had to ride in the boot of one of the cars. Additionally, Carla (the German girl I mentioned previously) was an extra person we didn’t anticipate. So to get everyone to fit, including all the ski equipment, two people had to sit in the trunk everywhere we went. Definitely not the safest, and absolutely not my choice, but it worked out…

Joey, our Airbnb extraordinaire, booked the most incredible house for us to stay in. It was very historical, dated in the 18th century, and it was MASSIVE. Literally, a mansion. Plus, it was located towards the top of a hill in the city, so the view we had was spectacular. I slept on one of the couches in the main living room with Graham the entire time we were there, and I loved waking up to the spectacular views outside the window. I am still blown away that we managed to get our safety deposit back, because, as you can imagine, 12 people can really wreak havoc when set wild in a large house for three days—especially when 10 of them are guys. Let’s just say I have never seen a group of people pull off such a thorough cleaning job in such a short period of time before the owner returned—it was the feat of a lifetime!

The backside of our glorious Airbnb (Thanks again, Joey!)
The view from inside the living room in which I slept each night. I took this picture upon awaking one morning.

We had decided before we left for the trip that we would do one communal dinner together each day. Hence, when we first arrived, we set out the game plan of who would oversee what meals and then we went food shopping just down the road. When we came back, we explored the house and surrounding area before we got our belongings organized for the long night we had before us.

This is just down the road from our house, taken on our way to the grocery store.

Our plan to witness the Northern Lights on our first night was to drive an hour or two outside the city and find a random mountain to hike up. Once there, we would make a fire, cook some hot dogs for dinner, and basically camp out for most of the night to watch the Aura Borealis.

We drove West of Tromsø for about an hour, with Trond, Graham and I analyzing the mountains as we drove to see which ones would be good to trek up for the night. We finally came across one that seemed perfect—seemingly manageable for those in the trip who were not avid hikers. Even the mountain we choose proved surprisingly difficult, but I am getting ahead of myself now…

With all our gear—food, fire wood, drinks, and warm clothes—we began hiking somewhat diagonally up the side of the mountain. It was a full moon which was perfect, as it allowed us to see where we were going. After a while, we found a good spot to make fire and start roasting our hot dogs, or pølser, as we say in Norwegian. It was fun to once again be drinking, eating, and chatting around a fire in the middle of nowhere, just like I do back in the states. This was something I do a lot back in Colorado when I go camping so it felt warm and familiar to me. While our pølser were cooking, Brad was the first one to just barely notice the Northern Lights in the distance. The excitement around the fire grew exponentially, and I couldn’t wait to see them with my own eyes.

The outline of myself huddled at the fire to stay warm while the full moon shined above us. You can see the rest of the mountain we climbed in the background.

After we finished our meal, we put out the fire and set out to hike further up the mountain. This is where the climbing got rather difficult. It was freezing, with thick layers of snow surrounding an increasingly rocky mountainside. The group began to get divided between those who moved faster and those who were struggling to get up the mountain. Additionally, Will took a huge L when he accidentally dropped his phone down some hole in the mountainside, never to be seen again. I felt so awful for him as our frantic searching for the phone proved fruitless. To his credit, he had such a good attitude about it all, especially when later in the trip he also broke his skis (but again, I am getting ahead of myself!). Let’s just say, Tromsø truly was a savage while we were there, despite all its glory and beauty.

Graham took one for the team and dived into the hole where Will believed his phone fell. Andy was holding his legs so he wouldn’t fall in.

With Will double fisting two cigarettes, we eventually kept moving up the mountain in hopes of getting an ever better view of the Northern Lights. As soon as we had started moving, something magical happened. The Aura Borealis appeared in the sky, one-hundred times stronger than previously. We all instinctively started screaming, and I am not kidding you, the louder we screamed the stronger the lights became! They were a glorious shade of green, all dancing across the sky. I couldn’t believe it, and sadly no picture will ever do it justice, but it helps for the memories… It by far was one of the happiest, magical times in my life as stood there screams with people who have become some of my good friends while watching the Lights grow bigger and stronger.

The first glimpses of the Northern Lights. The pictures made it look like day time, even though it was dark.
Taken at the time when we were all screaming and the Lights kept getting better and better – so amazing!

Some of us tried to summit the mountain but conditions got way too dangerous the higher we got. I was content with where we had reached and just how well we could see the lights.

Going down the mountain will forever be one of my most favorite experiences of my life. The mountain, like I mentioned, was quite steep and there were feet of snow everywhere so making our way down by merely walking we would soon realize was less than advisable. Before we knew it (and I still don’t remember who started it, probably Graham) we were flinging our bodies down the hill, sliding either on our feet, on our stomachs, but mostly on our butts. What took hours to climb, took maybe 30 minutes to descend!

As we are making our way down, laughing and pushing each other as we soaked our clothes through to our skin, we overheard Joey scream. Yep, savage Tromsø did it again—Joey announced he had lost his phone. We all stopped and many of us, including myself, had to climb back up the mountain to help look. Joey literally sprinted up the mountain in search for his iPhone, because sadly he had already experienced great loss with apple products when he accidentally left his Macbook on the plane when first traveling to Oslo. Lucky for Joey, he found his phone with all but 2% battery remaining! I still remember him standing with his arms above his head, grasping his phone as he yelled he found it. We celebrated immensely as we returned to flying down the snowy mountainside, butts in the cold snow.

The crew at the bottom of the hill! Despite the freezing temperatures, we were overheated by coming down the mountain and thus some of the guys crazily took off their shirts. I do apologize!

The next morning, Graham and I were awoken very early—me by the early sunlight breaking through the sunroom, and Graham because he is the biggest morning person I have ever met. He peeled the rest of the guys out of their beds upstairs to make sure we got moving at least somewhat early to go skiing and hiking at a near by mountain. I stuffed my face and backpack with food before we set off on our next adventure.

The day was just gorgeous. It was still freezing (artic circle and all…), but it was cloudless and sunny. Five of the guys had skies and I was planning on hiking from the beginning and anyone could join me if they wanted to. At first, the rest of the group said of course, but as we began to hike, Sam (ausie), Zach (Michigan), Joey (Michigan), and Pedro (Argentina) immediately pulled off to the side to start taking pictures of themselves. That was their choice, but I was not about to spend the day taking photos when I could be hiking. I told them I was just going to leave them and as I was walking away, Andy (Minnesotan) and Carla (German) joined me to hike. I was glad to have their company just in case something went wrong like getting lost or injured.

The mountain and trails were unlike anything I had ever seen. Unique ice crystals decorated the landscape due to how cold it was. We found a trail that was about 4 miles long so we made it our mission to try to get to the end and back before the time we agreed to meet up at the cars with the rest of our group.

The amazing ice crystals that lined all the trees and bushes.
Even the way the rivers are frozen are vastly different than back at home.
Part of the trail towards the middle of the valley.

As we were hiking, Andy thought he heard some of the guys up ahead. I tried to listen, but before I could hear anything he just sprinted off in the distance. Turns out he was right, we had somehow managed to meet up with the skiing crew! We talked for a little and then all decided to climb up this steep mountainside to get to the top. This was were our trail was heading but the snow and ice was so bad you couldn’t even see the trail anymore so once we summited, that was as far as we went.

Climbing up that mountain though was extremely difficult. It was pure ice in most places and the wind was far stronger than even the strongest winds in Chicago. Finally, we all reached the top. The views (and the wind) were unreal. We ate our lunch huddled around each other and took just a few celebratory photos because it was quite an accomplishment that we made it. That hike is definitely in my top 5 favorite hikes in my life.

The crew when we first reached the top.
One of the dopest photos of my life – you can see the crazy landscape we were hiking around. (Living on the edge!)
Pictured is me and Vince (Netherlands) doing the famous butt sliding technique to get down the hill.
I was lucky that Brad gave me his pole to help me get down the mountain. (Thank you Vince for the cool, candid picture!)

As it was starting to get dark, we decided to head back once we got down from the summit. Cross country skiing downhill is really tough so although some of us were hiking, we mostly stayed with the skiers because (Graham and Trond excluded) the guys kept falling—especially Brad. This is when Will lost it and ran into a snow bank, breaking both his skis. Tromsø really hated that kid, and I felt so sorry for him, for they weren’t even his skiis. A Norwegian family he calls his ‘host family’ here had let him borrow them. But just as he did with his phone, he had a great attitude and eventually we made it back to the cars. The other guys rolled in shortly after and then we set off to return home.

That night we took the gondola up a mountain to overlook the city. The tickets were cheap and it was definitely worth it to see the city lit up at night.

Glorious Tromsø at the top of a mountain. You can see the edges of the gondola in the picture.

Later, we stayed in the house and had a great time together, all awhile listening to Graham 2000’s music playlist. Everyone was dead the next morning but of course Graham woke up at the crack of dawn, thus waking me up. A few more followed suit and we decided to do our part in cleaning the house before just getting in a car and going on a road trip. We knew the rest of the group would not be able to get themselves ready in time so we opted for just ditching them—sounds mean but it was such a good decision. I still feel bad for them that they missed such a wonderful day.

It was Graham, Andy, Sam, and me in the car. Last minute Brad was able to through on a jacket and join us as well. We drove for hours, through a rain and snow mixture of weather, while surrounded by mountains and the Arctic ocean. This was also probably one of my favorite parts of the trip. For one, I just really love road trips in general. Something about the meditative aspect of it to me puts me in a peaceful state of mind, especially if I am driving through gorgeous landscapes, like I was in Tromsø. Another reason is I adore listening to music in the car. It is simply sublime to lose yourself in either thought or conversation while your ears are surrounded by the gentle melodies of some of your favorite songs.

We would make a few stops here and there to stretch our legs or get a better view of some outstanding outlooks. At one point, the wind was so strong that Graham’s door almost broke and flew off—talk about strong winds!

The view while driving. You can see the rain and clouds covering the mountain in the distance.
Pictured is Sam, Andy, and me stretching our legs on the side of the road.

The best part was when we decided to pull off on the side of the road, cross it, and walk onto this piece of land that jutted out into the ocean. The waters were a blue-green that I had never seen before and the icy, rainy winds were out of this world. We were screaming and running around like children on the playground. I was unbelievably happy and freezing at the same time. Graham even ended up walking into the water quite far while the rest of us just tried to not get blown away on the land. A crazy boy, that one is. The rest of us continued to play around and as soon as Graham came back out of the water, he sprinted back to the car because he was so cold. The rest of us followed suit, reaching the car cold, soaked, and beyond satisfied. I will never forget that tiny road trip to nowhere that we took.

You can see the amazingly unique colors of the Arctic waters.
Look how far Graham traveled into the freezing cold water. He’s that small outline in the distance! Crazy dude, I’m telling ya!!
Pictured is me about to get blown away by the impeccably strong, icy winds!

When we returned home, we came across the rest of the crew sitting in the living room. I felt kinda bad for them that they missed out on such a wonderful day, but hey it wasn’t our fault that we didn’t want to sit around and do nothing on our last day while everyone slept.

Like I mentioned earlier, cleaning up that house was a disaster. Additionally, we had one more communal meal to cook which made the kitchen a mess again. In the middle of our rapid cleaning and cooking, the owner walks in—astonished at how well we destroyed her home in just a few days. She kept saying, “I just don’t understand how this happened.” Joey (our savior) calmed her down and promised everything would be spotless in an hour. She said it better be just before taking off again. In that hour, we performed a miracle—no joke. In the end, we not only got our deposit back, but the woman left Joey and wonderful review on Airbnb.

Tromsø may have been the most beautiful and savage city I have ever been to–quite the dichotomy. I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to go there and that I was lucky enough to see the Northern Lights, especially on our first night (many other international students who traveled there were not so lucky).

Thanks for everything my lovely Arctic city, and thank you for reading about my adventures.

Until next time bloggy blog 🙂

P.s. Our one and only Bradley Lazar makes incredible videos, and this is the one he made for our trip that is only about a minute but shows the beauty of the city! It also features him falling while skiing if you’re into that!

First Trip of the semester: Kraków, Poland

First Trip of the semester: Kraków, Poland

Here it is finally: my blog post for my first trip of the semester! Took me a while to sit down and write it properly…

Kraków, Poland January 26th-31st.

I never in a million years thought I would travel to Poland, let alone Kraków, a city I had never even heard of. There wasn’t any particular reasoning, it was more that I knew nothing of the country and therefore had no desire to travel there.

Serendipity always catches me when I least expect it. Some night in the beginning of the semester, a lot of us were all hanging out in our friend Zach’s apartment. I remember distinctly sitting on his desk when my roommate Cami and our friend Nick said let’s go to Poland. In the matter of an hour, we had booked flights and accommodation—it was all so surreal! As I do when I get excited, I started shrieking with joy, almost bouncing off Zach’s desk. It was going to be my first trip of the semester, for 6 entire days, with 5 other strangers who I would soon call my good friends. Poland here we go!

Like I mentioned, I went to Kraków with five people: Cami (roommate, Argentina), Will (North Dakota, USA), Zach (Michigan, USA), Sam (Adelaide, Australia), and Nick (Auckland, New Zealand). These were still people I barely knew and yet I was about to travel to a different country with them—utter craziness.

The trip began with an early morning, meeting outside the local grocery store, Rema, at approximately 6:00am. Ironically, Sam; the eccentric and lovable Australian, otherwise known as Sammy K, Gutten (The Boy, in Norwegian), and various other names; happens to not show up. Turns out, in anticipation for our big journey, he had woken up at 4am only to fall asleep again and miss his alarm. He miraculously got ready in 10-ish minutes and then we were all set to go, even though Sam was upset he couldn’t perfect his hairstyle for the day (he really loves his hair).

It was funny how little we knew about where to go and what to do to get to the airport. Thankfully Cami is a strong, take-charge Argentinian and while at Oslo Central Station she found a nice gentleman who literally walked us to the Airport Express train we needed to take. While on the train, I dozed off as I was thinking about how I was already leaving Norway when I had only just moved here…

Once at the airport, we got our boarding passes. In the Norwegian airport, to get to the security line, you must scan your boarding pass. Of course, I go first and the pass I scanned wasn’t working. The machine kept saying, “Wrong airport, check boarding pass”. This cumulated in me panicking that we somehow had the wrong airport and that we were basically screwed. Luckily, Nick—who is the most responsible person I think I have ever met—happens to be the intelligent one who realizes that I was trying to scan my boarding pass for our stopover in Trondheim to Kraków, rather than Oslo to Trondheim. Thank the heavens for Nick!

On the plane, Will, Zach and I all sat separately while Cami, Nick, and Sam sat in the same row. It was nice to get some alone time to read my book before such a long trip. Like I always do, I packed an absurd amount of food to eat because I vow never to purchase anything in an airport (don’t ask why, because it is just a weird quirk I have). I gorged on my veggies, bread, and avocado while I awaited landing.

When we arrived, the guys all converted some money—I didn’t because I wanted better rates—and then we found a taxi driver to take us to our hostel. This driver was such a nice guy, and just a wonderful way to start the trip! We asked him how to say basic words in Polish, like “hello”, and “thank you”. The most important word we wanted to know was how to say “cheers” in Polish, which now I know is “Nazdrowie”, pronounced ‘nostrovia’! He told us all about the city, some cool places to go, as well as his home town that was a few hours outside the city. As we drove, I kept getting more and more excited to be in such a different place.

We finally got to our hostel and we couldn’t figure out where it was exactly. The hostel was located in what seemed like an apartment building but we had somehow found the courtyard in the center of it, rather than a front desk to check in. After a few minutes of confusion, this cute, little Polish man greeted us and showed us to our room. We had one room for all six of us with 3 bunk beds. It was cozy, to say the least! Sam and I took the bunk bed in the corner near the window, and he was kind enough to let me have the bottom bed.

Us in the courtyard of the building when we were lost trying to check in to the hostel.
The view from the window in the common area.
The crew within the first few minutes of entering our room we would call home for 6 days.

Before we had even settled in, the man (who I believe might have been the owner) came back upstairs with six complimentary shots of mint vodka—the best vodka I have ever had in my life. The hostel apparently provides one free shot of vodka a day, and unlimited malt wine—to which we took full advantage of while we were there. I told my Polish friend back in the states about it, and he said that was the most Polish thing he has ever heard. It was a great, culturally infused stay already!

Once unpacked, we left to go exploring. Our hostel was located right outside old town, with the Jewish quarter a short walk away as well. All the roads are cobblestone and the buildings are beautiful and historic. The Wawel Royal Castel and Cathedral was where we watched our first sunset in Kraków, as well as took some group photos.

The group walking in front of Wawel Castle.
S/O to Cami for capturing this candid photo of us taking in the views – Nick, me, Zach, Will, Sam
My flatmate, Cami and I.
The beautiful sunset outside the castle.

We did some of the usual touristy attractions. We went to the Schindler’s Museum, which I highly recommend, as well at toured the Wawel Royal Castel and Cathedral. To gain access we bought tickets for about $2 and it was well worth the money. The cathedral is astonishingly beautiful; however, photographs were forbidden. I snuck a quick one of one room I was in because the ceiling was just too beautiful to ever forget. I was glad we took the time to go there.

Outside the Cathedral.
The ceiling I illegally took a photo of because it was so impressively gorgeous.

The Kraków historical foundation provides free walking tours of the city to anyone who wishes to go on one to learn more about the city and its history. Nick, Cami, and I lost the other three guys when we were making our way to get lunch before our 2’oclock tour. Where they went is a story that is better told in person, but because of that setback we didn’t get lunch before the tour began. All the guys and Cami just quickly got McDonalds, but the ethical environmentalist in me would not give in to getting anything from the popular food chain, so I withheld from eating basically the entire day. The tour lasted four long hours in the cold. It was certainly interesting but as I was tired, cold, and starving, I was starting to feel closer to a zombie than an excited tourist. I never, ever miss a meal, so this was quite peculiar for me. I still remember the relief when we finally headed back to our hostel and stopped at a quaint Polish restaurant where I ate my first traditional Polish soup, that will undoubtedly, forever be the best soup I have ever eaten. (It was some fermented soup with a hard-boiled egg and sausage).

On that note, all of Poland is impeccably cheap, and we lived like kings and queens while we were there. The hostel didn’t have a kitchen, so we literally ate out at every single meal and went out on the town every night. It was a nice juxtaposition to Norway, in which absolutely everything is absurdly overpriced and I have yet to eat out even once. For breakfast, we always went to this bagel shop for delicious bagels and coffee. For lunch and dinner, we would try to eat Polish foods, or even just cheap bread that you could get on every street corner by a vender. At night, during and/or after going out, we would always get kebabs—always. I think a really good kebab is probably my favorite meal on this planet. I can’t begin to describe to you how much I miss those massive, two-dollar kebabs with fresh meat and spicy sauce. (Sadly, I have no photographs of the glorious kebabs).

The massive amount of sushi we got for dinner on the first night – Sam even befriended our waiter enough to hug him when we left!
My last dinner in Kraków – very Polish, very cheap, and very delicious!

In fact, one our favorite kebab places happened to have a shisha bar beneath it. On our third or fourth night (they kind of blend together at this point), we had gotten kebabs and then decided to spend the night chilling and talking around a big hookah. Instead however, Cami, Nick, and Sam decided they weren’t feeling it and left to go home. That left the three of us: Will, Zach and I. The owner of the bar came over at one point to offer us free tea, and then proceeded to sit down with us for one of the best two hour long conversations of my life. His name was Mustafa, an Egyptian muslim who immigrated to Poland. We talked about so many controversial topics, but in such a respectful, eye-opening manner. We discussed the racism in Poland, what his experience as a Muslim has been, his children, Israel, Syria and the refugees, and more. He was such an open, humble man and I was grateful to share that conversation with Zach and Will. We left the bar around 3am thankful for the time we had spent there.

Some other significant people I met while in Poland were two women from our hostel. One was a 21-year-old Australian, Tess, who we only were able to spend time with for one night before she left the following day for her next adventure. Tess was such a free-living person with a high degree of independence and an aura of maturity beyond her years. One word I would use to describe Tess is fiery. As she is my age, I found it fascinating to get to know her, hear her life story, and learn what she plans to do with her life.

The other woman who made an impact on me was named Brenda, a 60-year-old Brit who has traveled previously to Kraków and returned because she loves it. She, too, was intriguing to me. She had divorced about 10 years prior and now was doing what she had always wanted to do—travel and feel free. I thought she had such courage to do what she was doing, and her story, like Tess’s, really touched me. Us three talked together for hours in the hostel, before Brenda took my friends and I to a great pub in the Jewish district, called Alchemy. We later went to a club to go dancing and I could tell Brenda was having the best time. At one point, she literally pulls me aside and tells me thank you. I asked what for, and she said she was grateful that we made her feel young for the night—that we didn’t treat her as this old woman who was tagging along. I smiled and told her she was the youngest one out of all of us…

The next day, Tess had already left and Brenda was leaving in the afternoon. Before she left, I made sure I said goodbye. She gave me the warmest hug, squeezed my shoulder, and told me not to stress; that I will figure out my life in due time…

Me, Brenda, Cami, and Tess at the end of the night when we went out. 

An ironic, funny in retrospect, moment of my trip was when I woke up early one morning to go for a run. We had been out super late the night before, but I had promised myself that I was going to still go for runs while we were in Poland since we were there for such a long time. So, despite a lack of adequate sleep, I somehow woke up naturally at 9am and quietly got dressed to go for a run. Poland was even colder than Norway at the time so I dressed fairly warm and set out for a short run.

Within the first five minutes some woman stopped me and began speaking polish to me. When I said I didn’t speak polish, she waved her hands in defeat and kept walking. Confused, I started up running again. All awhile, everyone I passed kept staring at me. I was slightly uncomfortable to be honest. It made me wonder if Polish people had ever seen a runner before or something. Not 10 minutes later, another woman stopped me on the street and this time when I said I didn’t speak polish, she answered in English. Turns out that the pollution in the city was something like one-hundred times worse than usual and there was a general warning put out to stay indoors. She said I should cut my run short for my health. It scared me, so I ended up only running for 30 minutes and I held my hand over my mouth, almost like a mask, to try limit my inhalations of polluted air.

Upon returning, hence the ‘funny in retrospect’ part of the story, the hostel door was locked and no one was answering the it. I was stuck now in this freezing hallway, sweaty and hungry, with no hope of getting indoors. I messaged my friends in our group chat repeatedly starting from 10:26 to about 10:46 upon which I was just about to give up hope. I decided to knock one last time in desperation, as at this point I was violently shivering from the cold. Suddenly Brenda opens the door!! She heard my knock and apologized for not hearing it sooner (such a sweetheart). I thought I was going to cry I was so happy. I then immediately proceeded to enter our room and screamed for my friends to wake up. They awoke grumpy and confused as to why I was loudly waking them up. I explained and they laughed as they read my messages I sent them while they were sleeping. Looking back, it was pretty funny, but at the time it wasn’t the best… For your entertainment, attached below are my messages I sent to the group. They are quite amusing, now I am sitting here in my warm kitchen with a full stomach…. Again, bless Brenda, my savoir <3

The first set of messages I began to send in our group chat
The more desperate messages followed the longer I was locked outside.

On a different note, another crucial aspect of my venture to Kraków was visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau. About a week before we left, Cami asked if we would be ok with doing a six-hour tour on our second to last day. We all thought that was a good idea, but I was scared about how I would handle it. I am Jewish, and I had family members who had lived and died within the camp. Cami and the guys said they would be there for me, and I appreciated it whilst knowing it would be a difficult day.

I can’t really go into detail about everything I felt and experienced while I was there. I truly hate crying in front of people, even in front of myself for that matter, so at times I wished I were alone as we walked in and out of the buildings of the camp.

After three hours we got a break, and I had not brought any food, nor did I have any desire to eat. I knew I was probably starving, but I felt extremely sick to my stomach and couldn’t image taking a bit of anything. Sam, the sweetheart that he can be, bought me a slice of pizza without me knowing and gave it me. It was a surprisingly kind gesture that I needed to get through the last three hours of the tour.

It was a harrowing, but vital aspect of my trip, and I am grateful I was able to experience it. I highly recommend going if you are ever in Poland.

The entrance to the concentration camp – the only photo I took while there.

Now our trip was coming to a close, and it felt weird. Poland had become our home for what seemed like forever, but in reality it was only 6 days. On our last night, we ate a delicious Polish meal together to close the trip off. Mine, despite its size, cost me approximately $4, including the tea I got for dessert (sorry, still can’t get over how cheap everything was!). Some of my friends, Will specifically, mentioned how they were ready to leave and go home. I, on the other hand, was sad that we had to leave. I loved and still love Poland! I am not sure if it is because it was my first trip, or if it was actually because I loved it, however, I am more certain it is the latter. Even just writing this blog post helped me to remember all the crazy fun times we had there. Poland was the best place I have traveled thus far while studying abroad. It was such an awesome place; so beautiful, and so historical, and with a lovely group of people. I am extremely grateful for how things turned out.

Love ya, Poland. 🙂

The group: Nick, me, Zach, Will, Sam, Cami
Hot dogs

Hot dogs

After so many weeks, its me again! I guess I am not too great at this blogging thing. I’ll have to work on it…

I really wish I could narrow the focus of this post to my recent adventures because I’ve had so many. I recently spent an incredible 6 day escapade in Kraków, Poland with 5 friends. Then this past weekend I spent 4 days in Tromsø, Norway (in the Arctic circle!) with 11 other people. I really do have so much to say about those experiences, but there is something resting on my mind that I can’t push out. So instead of discussing my monumental tour at Auschwitz, or how I saw the Northern lights with my very own eyes, I am going to hash out something very different….

I feel lost.

Clearly, I don’t mean physically… I also don’t mean that I am lost within the meaning and purpose of my life, bla bla bla. Strangely enough, I almost am ok with not knowing what I want to do with my life anymore, even though that has tormented me since I was quite young.

No, I feel lost because I don’t know who I am anymore.

Here I was, within the first two weeks of arriving in Norway, hiking with 5 guys through the forests of Frognerseteren. It is on the hill of Oslo, at the end of line 1 on the metro. It was a clear day down in Oslo, but after the 45 minute uphill train ride, we starting to see snow building up on the ground outside the windows. When we finally arrived, snow was actually falling. I was overjoyed at the sight, because this is why I came to Norway! To hike and ski and explore the snowy, cold landscape!

The hike was beautifully frigid. As we were just about to get back to the metro, I heard some music. This wasn’t ordinary music though, it was practically bumping as though the forest was having a rager. Keep in mind we were in the middle of nowhere so I was highly confused and thought I was imagining it. I told the other guys to listen and when it was confirmed that I wasn’t crazy, I urged them to go with me to see where it was coming from, even though that meant staying in the cold longer. I’ll never forget my friend Will when he said, “Always follow the music, it’ll never steer you wrong.”

Low and behold, we literally came across a party in the middle of nowhere. It was the law students going wild the week before their classes began. They had a red bull truck blasting music, hot dogs on barbies filling the air with yummy scents, and for fun, they were throwing bricks to see how far they could get them. Right before a person would through the brick, everyone would be chanting and yelling in Norwegian. The person at bat would chuck the brick as far as they could, some reaching farther than others. The whole scene was absolutely ridiculous and awesome all at the same time.

My friend Sam was the first to go grab a hot dog without really asking them. When the other guys saw that the students were ok with us crashing the party, they proceeded to go grab one as well. Out of nowhere, and especially without thinking, I joined in. By the time that we left the party in the forest, I had eaten 2 of the most delicious hot dogs.

There is nothing inherently wrong about eating a hot dog, except for the fact that I have been a vegetarian for 8 years. EIGHT YEARS. Then all of a sudden, with no remorse or contemplation, I just ate 2 for no reason whatsoever. Heck, I wasn’t even that hungry.

I probably sound crazy, but that’s just one small example illustrating how I don’t even know who I am anymore. How could I be a certain way for 8 freaking years, and then just forgo it without a single care in the world? It is not that I am mad at myself, because I certainly am far from it. However, I am just confused with myself. How can I do something with not even understanding why I did it?

A big problem is that I think unconsciously I thought my experience in Norway would be similar to the two month experience I had when I lived in Iceland this past summer. I learned so much there beyond academics. The best way I would describe it to people is that I learned so much about myself, about other people, and especially about how I interact with the world.

To elaborate, I learned I could be a truly great listener and that I am amazingly talented at getting strangers to open their lives up to me. I relearned how much I love reading, and I read so much especially when I returned from Iceland. And finally, I learned just how independent I am. I loved being by myself, venturing off whenever and wherever I wanted to. It was so freeing, I couldn’t get enough!

Here in Oslo, it’s a totally different story. I feel like I talk about myself way too much, I never feel like reading, and I feel so dependent! I can’t travel anywhere or do anything without the little crew I’ve grown accustomed to being around, and this bothers me! It’s like I just changed out of nowhere and I don’t understand why or how.

Right before sitting down to write this, I just had a really good conversation with two of my roommates, Cami and Frances. Cami is from Argentina and Frances from Canada. I had just gotten back from the gym and on the walk home all of this had really started to wear down on me. Without showering I just went into the kitchen because I saw they were there. I asked if it was ok if I talked about something bothering me, and they genuinely said of course, and then we spent a few hours just talking.

It honestly made me feel better. I was partially getting frustrated that I am spending so much time here with people that don’t really even know me and vice versa. We never really have deep conversations about life, love, hardship, anything for that matter. It is all just fun and games. Frances, on that note, had a good comeback; why don’t I change that? Why don’t I start and encourage conversation beyond the surface? Damn, good point.

Cami, in response to my fears of changing, said that everyone changes. I used to believe though that the core of every person stays the same, despite changing a lot on the outside. Nonetheless, she had a good retort to that. How do you differentiate between the surface and the core of a person? I shouldn’t be worrying about whether I am losing the very heart of who I am because it’s just not even possible to tell if I am or not.

I guess at the end of the day, and with a good 4 hours of valuable studying time gone, I still feel lost. However, I think like Frances said, I need to stop worrying and stop overthinking. Me changing might be a slow process that I never saw coming but it’ll be ok. Besides this is exactly what people always said will happen when you study abroad. (How cliche).

For now, you can catch me sticking around Oslo for the next few weeks, probably eating some chicken and hotdogs while I’m at it. I’ll try to post soon some details about all the spectacular places I have traveled to already and all the wonderful people I have met.

Until next time, Lola blog…

The Smallest Big City

The Smallest Big City

Hei hei! (As one would say in Norway to greet someone)


I honestly have no idea what to write in a blog, so bear with me. In fact, I never really wanted to write one, especially one with the possibility of others reading it. What changed my mind, is perhaps a mixture of events… First, everyone raves about the importance of blogs during their time abroad, which seems to be an indicator that I should change my stance on creating one for myself. Second, my memory is horrid and this may help me to account for many of my experiences soon to be had. And lastly, writing a blog is outside of my comfort zone, just like my study abroad experience–so why not? Here I go!


 If you haven’t read my bio as of yet, I guess I should introduce myself! My name is Shayna Milstein, a junior math major at Loyola who is originally from Colorado. I always knew I wanted to study abroad but the location kept changing until, by chance, I settled on directly enrolling at the Universitetet i Oslo (University of Oslo) in Norway. I arrived on January 6th, and since then have barely begun to catch my breath–but in a good way!

First few weeks:

First things first, I am so glad I decided to choose a program where I directly enroll at a university! Last summer I did a program for two months in Iceland that was completely organized. We were with 22 other students, our days were primarily planned, and our classes fixed. While that was an incredible experience in and of itself, I am super independent and therefore get a certain thrill from just being a regular student who happens to be studying in Norway. I get to do all the usual student activities: travel, explore, join organizations and sports, especially choose what I want to study.

I don’t ever have class on Fridays, which is a first for me. In fact, I feel like I rarely have class. Norwegians structure their classes very differently than in the States, and most work is to be done outside the classroom. Something to get used to I guess! I also went super outside my comfort zone yet again by taking not only courses needed for my graduation, but a Norwegian Language class as well. It is something I didn’t need or ever thought I’d want to take, but immediately upon arrival I felt this strong desire to learn the language. Forgetting the fact that it is 3 hours long, twice a week, it is probably my favorite class. I am utterly happy I took advantage of that opportunity despite the fact that now my course load senior year will be inevitably be denser.

It’s freeing that I can travel every weekend if I choose (I won’t because, well, money). So what I have been spending much of my time doing is meeting with friends, going out, and hiking. Everyone is so fit, healthy, and into nature here. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to come, so I am glad my expectations in that aspect were met and even exceeded.

Buddy Groups:

The University is split up into faculty, and given that I am studying math, I registered under the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. Here we are then split into “buddy groups”. These are groups of exchange students from around the world and about 3 Norwegians, all of which are studying the same subject as you. So in my case, most of us study math. The purpose is to create friendships between various exchange students. I truly lucked out with mine because while my friends’ groups no longer talk, most people in my group have become some of my good friends here. In future blogs I wouldn’t be surprised if I continue to mention my group so I wanted to explain who they are for ease of reading!

In Closing:

That’s all for now, I really don’t want to write too much at one time, even though there is so much more to say. I’ll try to check back in sometime next week because tomorrow (bright and early!) I am traveling to Krakow, Poland for 6 days with 4 guys I’ve met here and one of my flatmates! Still can’t get over that in less time than it takes me to travel between Colorado and Chicago, I can be in a different country here, with a completely different language, history, and culture! I just love it!!

See you next week! Takk for i dag! (“Thanks for today”)

P.s. sunsets here are among the best I’ve ever seen. Even though the sun sets super early (around 3:30pm when I first arrived, now more around 4:30pm) it lasts for like an hour or two. This photo was from my walk home from the gym recently…

The sunsets of Norway
The sunsets of Norway