Wer hätte gedacht? A (Pre-Corona) Love Letter to the People I’ve Met/Reflection on a Year Abroad

This was written pre-Corona time and has sat in my drafts, so I figured I would post it! I wrote this while in LGW on my way home.

Wer hätte gedacht?

Who would have thought?

Let’s say, three years ago, if you’d told me any of the things I’ve experienced would have taken place, I likely wouldn’t have believed you. If we’re being honest, three years ago – prior to my first trip to Europe, I didn’t even think I’d like traveling.

If you told me I’d be studying German – as a major – and living for a YEAR – or at least, a school year – abroad in Austria – a country I barely knew a thing about prior to my German major – I never would have believed you.

If you would have told me that I would seriously be considering doing graduate work at a German university, I never would have believed you.

If you would have told me that a tiny city in western Austria would have been something I considered a home, I never would have believed you.

If you would have told me that I would be meeting wonderful, amazing, extraordinary people from across the globe – starting and developing a web of friendships with strangers and newly-made friends alike, most of whom I’d never would have met without this program – I never would have believed you.

Not in a million years.

Yet here we are.

Wer hätte gedacht?

From the start, I felt something from Salzburg.

But at first, all I felt from this city was the heat. It was hot when I got off the plane in Salzburg. I was disgusting – sweaty, jet-lagged, exhausted, and totally lost – yet, despite all of this, I felt like I was returning, to a place I’d never been. It felt familiar. To this day, I’m not sure why. I genuinely can’t explain it. Yet barely 27 hours prior, I had been fast asleep in my family’s minivan, heading to San Francisco International Airport, where I would meet up with two friends and we’d fly out to Vienna, then to Salzburg – both in a country I had never stepped foot in.

Twenty-seven hours was all it took for me to be separated from everything back home to a whole different world. That may be meta, and dramatic, but it’s true! I didn’t really know anyone, or anywhere for that matter, other than a few people within the program. I didn’t have any idea what I was getting myself into.

Little did I know, leaving home would bring me home.

And little did I know, there were people that I was heading towards that would change my life completely. That’d shape my definition of friendship. Little did I know, I was heading to a city that I would absolutely fall head-over-heels for.

I’d been in Salzburg for eight months, and I’ve been traveling around for another month. That brings me to nine whole months. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a long time. I talked about this in another post of mine, back in early February. I’m young, and I’ve got years – decades – ahead of me. Not only this, but I’ve got two decades behind me. Nine months? Out of years I’ve been alive? Barely a thing. Yet nine months is a long time.

Nine months ago, I left home to make a new home for myself over five-thousand miles away. Nine months away from my friends and family back home.

That being said, in these now-nine months, despite being away from my Sacramento or Portland friends, I’ve experienced a sort of love that I think will stay with me forever. And I think that the people I’ve met along the way are leagues better than the places I’ve seen. I have experienced love in the people I met through the Center. The nurses and the engineers. The year-longs. I experienced love through the people I met on the way. Christina, Flo, and Lukas (Austria). Johanna (Austria). Marie (Denmark). Jason (USA). Iona and Emma (USA). All of the guys I met in Estonia (like everywhere lol). Weronika and Robert (Poland). Kryshtopenko (Ukraine). Aideen and Niamh (Ireland). Jake, Megan, Fabi, Cam, Maddie, Elise, Cristian, Jacob, Divyang (like everywhere – Check Edinburgh post). Although I’m sad to be leaving, I’m sure I will see at least some of them again – some of them live as close as Portland, or as far as Thailand or Korea. I’ve been so generously offered places to stay, quite literally, all over the globe – and thanks to modern technology, I’ve been able to keep in touch with a lot of them! And I’ve let them know that they always have a place to stay in California or Portland. I have gained a love of people, places, and an immense gratitude for the world around me.

Even the strangers I meet in the street, or the people I meet in hostels, whether in Sarajevo or in Amsterdam or in Germany – everyone is so humanly good. Not humanely (although that’s probably the case too) – but humanly. Like they show off the best of humanity. They wear compassion, care, curiosity, generosity, and love on their sleeves. I’ve rarely met bad people through the entire time I’ve been here – and for nine months over here, I’d say that’s a pretty good track record.

But despite how “minuscule” nine months is in terms of my life as a whole, it’s been a long nine months. Time is such a weird construct. Does it matter? Anyways.

To be honest, I don’t know, and I don’t think so? Or at least, even if it does, the “relatively short” time of eight or nine months doesn’t change much. I’ve had a lifetime worth of memories. I’ve lived my dreams out until I was blue in the face (in a good way!), but yet I’m ready to go out and do more, see more, experience more, every single day. It’s been a time of learning, living, and loving. There’s been laughter until I cry, or crying until I laugh – and I’m sure this can be said for most people on the program, and probably the same with almost everyone I met while traveling solo. I was forced to confront the uncomfortable. To adapt when it felt hard to. To push my boundaries with language and social situations. There’s been mishaps, downs, and some of the lowest lows I can remember – I mean, sleeping outside in a train station in Belgium in the cold, then having EVERYTHING stolen is pretty low. But at the same time, there have been some of the highest highs I’ve ever had, and some of the greatest joys and memories of my life.

I’ve been fortunate enough as to have some of the greatest people in the world enter my life through this. I truly believe that. The people that I’ve met on this adventure have the capacity to change the world. To revolutionize it with love. To confront the bad and make it good. I mentioned it in another post, but I’ve truly become a family with the people around me. Sure, in the Center, some of us get tired of each other, or there’s bickering, or whatever, but with the Salzburgers and the other wonderful people I’ve met along this, at the end of the day, there’s an immense, immeasurable amount of love. Love for others and love for themselves, and it’s truly inspiring. Each and every person I’ve met through this program has impacted my life in a different way. I never thought I’d meet so many wonderful, big-hearted, builder-upper, encouraging, enthusiastic people. The kind of people that make you happy just by seeing them happy. The ones who make you feel special over a tiny little thing, like something you wear or the way your smile looks. The kind of people who manage to convince you that good is on its way just based on the conviction in their voices when they speak. The kind of people who one likes to be around.

And I’ve learned more in the past eight or nine months than I have in the last eight or nine years, I think.

Looking back on these past nine months, as I sit in London Gatwick, frantically typing this up before my flight home, I’m floored by the realization that I am here. Like, stopped-in-my-tracks, take-a-seat-and-breathe floored. Even thinking of it, I get chills – Salzburg, and Europe as a whole, has truly become a love of mine and has shaped the way I will go forward in life – I mean, who wouldn’t be inspired when surrounded with so much beauty? It has taught me what I want to do and what kind of people I want to surround myself with.

And I think that that goes leagues beyond what any classroom lesson could ever possibly teach.

The people and places I’ve come to love during these nine months have truly been nothing short of sublime. I’m trying to come up with words to accurately describe just how beautiful, life-altering and absolutely, wonderfully amazing the people and places I’ve experienced are, but I just can’t seem to find the words.

And I feel that that’s pretty fitting to the character of these people and places. Indescribably meaningful, world-class people, places, and experiences.

It’s been a long nine months, but short at the same time. And I can’t wait to do more exploring, to meet more people, to make more memories, and to see more of the wonderful world around me. It can’t come soon enough.

And I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. This experience truly has been unreal. So many dreams come true – in a way, it’s been heaven on earth for me. Cheesy, I know. But it’s true.

Anyways, enough blabbering.

So with that, thank you to the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, and especially to my family, for supporting me and encouraging me throughout all of this.

Well, I’ve got a flight to board soon.

Mit Liebe aus Europa/With love from Europe,

Cal

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