The Dream Ends, The Grand Adventure Continues

Written by Swati

Que fait la nuit quand il fait jour?

(What does the night do when it becomes day?)

I’d give you the fast facts, I’d give you the recap, I’d tell you my biggest piece of advice but the only thing I want anyone to know is: trust yourself. Trust that you’ll learn when the time comes, that you’ll brace for impact when adventure arrives, that you’ll open your heart when love knocks. Trust and launch yourself at the world, there will always be open arms to catch you if you fall, lest your wings falter before they take flight. 

In 122 days, there’s not a single moment I’d forget, lesson I’d unlearn, person I’d unmeet, or adventure I’d unlive. Every moment is necessary and every experience is a teacher. You know I’m not often one left with a lack of words. There’s so many things I haven’t left unsaid, but I’d just like to leave you all with a few of the thoughts I had in my finals hours in France.

We are all collections of love lost and found again. We are mosaics, pieces of stained glass collected over centuries, reflecting the light that shines down on us. We are molten over decades, cooled in minutes, hardened in a second. So we beat on, boats against the current, always lost and found again. 

I hope you always believe in the greatness of small things, and that once you’ve found your flavor of happiness, you never lose it, you never forget it, and most importantly, you never let anyone take it from you, or convince you it wasn’t sweet in the first place. Misery loves company, but so does joy. 

I hope you book every flight on RyanAir under 20 euros that you can get your hands on and show up in different countries bleary eyed and so alive. You’ll never get these moments back, not the same exact way at least. Develop new skills, hobbies, and talents and find ways to use them everywhere. I spoke Korean in Scotland (and Paris, Metz, London, Italy, and Switzerland), Tamil in Switzerland, Italy, and London, Spanish in London, French in Wales, and Turkish in Belgium. Muster up the courage to do every single thing that you were scared of, even if it’s just asking a question in another language, having a tough conversation, or turning around to find two new friends in line at a concert. And I hope you soak up every part of it: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

To every other student who spent the past semester at Georgia Tech Europe: We’re linked. We’re bonded. In one way or another our souls are bound by Cora shuttles, panicked eyes, and scrambling to catch trains by sunrise. 

If there’s anything I want to leave you with: travel. Travel. Travel. Travel. Always travel. Travel and read. Travel and write. Travel and unabashedly stare at strangers and make up stories about their lives and when you’re finally brave enough, ask them directly. Travel so far and so wide that you have to convince yourself that the places, the people, and the beauty is all real. Travel and see pieces of yourself in every person you meet. 

You are going to mess up so many things and you will love them all differently in the same way. You will watch so many sunrises, sunsets, and first dates in the most romantic places in the world and love yourself more just for existing because of it. You will have so many sleepy train rides and take flights to corners of countries you’ve read about in books. You will have enough stories to last you lifetimes, pictures to fill up countless scrapbooks, and memories to fill up dozens of journals. You will swipe away tears at dusk on the final day when your friends board the first shuttle back to Charles De Gaulle Airport at one in the morning because you know you will never be the same again. Because moments don’t last, memories fade, and people change, for better or for worse. No words will ever describe the jumble of emotions and complications that being on your own truly is but at least they understand. These people have brought the world out of you and into you at the same time, they’ve been shoulders to cry on and hands to grasp onto. And they’ve always reminded you that you are so much more than you could have ever thought you would be. Welcome to the rest of your life. These are your roaring 20s. And they’re so glad you stayed alive.

Places In Europe That Felt Like Portals to New Universes

Written by Swati

I am fully in the thrall of finals, but I wanted to get a quick light hearted post up about some of the highlights of my travels. This is a highly condensed list, but they’re the ones that’ll hold the brightest lights in my heart.

  1. Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland

If there’s anything you’ve learned about me the past few months, it’s that I r e a d. And when I have the time and mental energy for it, I write. Going to the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh was a particularly special experience for me because it felt like I had stepped back into time, and walked alongside some of Scotland’s most notable writers. Literary giants like Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Jekyll and Hyde, Sir Walter Scott, author of Waverley, and Robert Burns, a Scottish poet. Each of them had a floor dedicated to their lives and work, and personally, I connected the most to Robert Louis Stevenson. He was a sickly child, but learned the importance of travel and widening your perspective from a young age. Much of his life’s memorabilia centered around a love of travel and desire to see more and experience more. Edinburgh as a whole is a beautiful literary city paying homage to Sir Walter Scott through their train station and the Scott monument. And I’ve never found a place that settled so quickly into my bones.

  1. Venezia, Italy

When I was a child, my mom would say the only way to keep me put in a single place was a body of water. I was a pretty tireless child, switching hobbies like changing outfits and belting songs on my bed that could be heard from a floor away. The only magic that kept my attention long enough to stay still was moving water. And Venice was pure magic. I wrote in a previous blog post that Venice must be God’s favorite place. I still feel that way, the whole city feels like a dream sequence. I went the day after Carnival ended, so I got the added effect of empty cobblestone streets and uncrowded ferries. Bonus points go to the two nearby islands, Murano and Burano, chock full of colorful houses and beautiful craftsmanship in the form of molten glass and lace. 

  1. The First Floor of the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris

I’m not sure if I gave Paris the real love it deserved this semester. My weekend there was very fragmented and in the hustle-bustle of group travel, I didn’t have a chance to sit and enjoy the atmosphere as much as I would’ve liked. Paris is an acquired taste, but the Shakespeare and Company bookstore saved the trip. Everything about the store is the living heart of a writer. The shopkeepers are very strict with photography and demand respect, but I burned every moment into my brain. Gentle piano strokes dance in through the doorway of the first floor. I felt myself at every age. 7 and digging through the “big-kid shelves” at my local libraries, 12 and leafing through ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Ernest Hemingway, 17 and cozying up in a corner with my journal in hand, 21 and gingerly tracing the antique typewriter in the side room. If there’s anywhere in Paris that’s pure magic it’s the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. 

  1. Menaggio, Lake Como, Italy

This might be cheating because 2 separate cities in Italy are on the list, but what can I say? It’s a country worth making movies about. Every inch has its charm. But Menaggio was a quiet lakeside town, tucked away north of Lake Como. The people have the brightest smiles and shopkeepers tuck sprigs of lavender in the corners of windows and spritz perfume by the entrances. In Menaggio I skipped rocks, collected seashells, went perfume shopping, and skipped through the streets with a gelato in hand. Menaggio is summer “city-fied.” If there’s one feeling I hope everyone feels, it’s complete and total peace and contentment the way I felt it in Menaggio. I also ran into a group of teachers on a reunion for their study abroad a few years prior who encouraged me to adventure far and wide. It’s the only way the heart stays young and the soul grows old. 

  1. Interlaken, Switzerland

I stand by my judgment that Switzerland is a fake country. The water is fake, the Alps are fake, the cheese is fake, the chocolate is fake, everything about it feels straight out of a simulation. Straight dream life, too perfect to be real. But Interlaken is a treasure. Look up and see the Alps, look down and see the emerald water of Lake Thun. The flowers are otherworldly, the water is diamonds on ice, the trees silk leaves, the pages of books coated in gold, the whole country effervesces. 

Special Mention: London, United Kingdom

You know I had to do it. The different entities within the United Kingdom have just stolen my heart whole, but London is in a league of its own. Scotland, Wales, and England each have their own unique charm, but something about London will stay with me for the rest of my life. The city felt like something I’ve always known, somewhere I’ve always been ready to be, I sent messages back to friends telling them I’d finally found somewhere I’d never leave. Not many loved London the way I did, but that’s the beauty of travel, you run into the things you need the very most right when you need them and you find the things you never knew you were looking for.

this is our last chance: love

Written by Swati

And for my last weekend, it’s one chock full of repeats. A weekend full of the old, to find where the new has filled in the gaps. Le Centre Pompidou, shopping at Muse, meeting friends at Fox Coffee, and Indian food at Le Vallee du Kashmir. 

I love the Centre Pompidou. I love it because I hate it. It’s confusing and disconcerting and the exhibits consistently knot up my veins and crinkle up the folds in my brain. They’re disturbing and distressing, which means they strike a chord in me. The works rampage through my brain, French modernism is eons beyond my art comprehension. Sure, much of it is lines and squares, eerie videos and whispering audio files, but art disturbs the comforted and comforts the disturbed. My first visit to the modern art museum was my second weekend abroad. I was lost and confused, and I found comfort in piecing the science fiction exhibit together. And it gives me such joy to know that the very same things that comforted me, now disturb me. 

Modern art reminds me of my favorite English teacher in high school who also taught art history and yearbook (she was a very busy woman), but always made time for what mattered. She told us we were art, pressed sunflower seeds in our hands and said the world was ours. Her classroom was a sanctuary, her teachings sacred. When I’m empty inside, I look for her in the corners of paintings and sculptures. I look for the art she sees everywhere. And this weekend, I could feel her hand in my life. Her warmth seeping out of my smile, her gentle nature caressing flower petals.  

A particular painting moved me, the one above, sans titre. I spent a good 15 minutes sat in front of it. Pulling the characters apart, what they must be thinking, how they’ve lived, how they’re interconnected, how my perception of them is altered based on my perspective, what doors they unlock in my heart. I reach a dismayed conclusion: maybe we’re all doomed after all. Maybe we actually will leave the world as we enter it: alone. Maybe happiness is a task too heavy for us to carry out with our own two hands. But that can’t be it. 

We haven’t entered the world alone. What of the doctors and the nurses that spent months making sure we’d enter safely? What of the friends that press flowers into our hands and light candles on the day we entered this world? What of the smiles of strangers on the street? What of every single person who has pulled out threads of happiness tangled deep in the fabric of our hearts? Perhaps we are patchwork quilts, full of knitted squares where the goodness of the outside world seeps in one seam at a time. 

After I was satisfied with my level of unsettlement, I marched off to Fox Coffee to find my friends after an intense game of Go. We had a conversation about the merits and flaws of modern art, but at the end of the day, I believe we need more spaces to force us to think autonomously in an oversaturated world of thought. Sometimes you must be given the time, space, and material to form your own opinions. Listen a little closer to your lost heart. It’ll always have something to say. 

I ended off the evening by getting matching color changing polar bear lamps for my little sister and I from Flying Tiger and heading to get Indian food with another friend. I try not to eat too much Indian food my mom hasn’t made. Not that it isn’t any good, just that I’m picky and my mom has a special hand when it comes to cooking. But sometimes you get a bite of chicken tandoori that’s just unbeatable. Sharing a meal with a friend over sweet, rose lassis reminded me of community and starting deep connections off with shared meals and easy smiles. By the time we made it back to the dorm I was convinced I had spent the absolute perfect last weekend in Metz. 

Maybe love is all we have. Maybe love is all we need. Maybe love is our gravity, that which pulls us towards each other.

Joie De Vivre

Written by Swati

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude. Gratitude that life is simpler now than I ever thought it would be. So many of my days are slipping into a comfortable dream-state, picking dandelions on sidewalks and making wishes at sunset. Rhythmic pasta-making in my kitchen after hours tapping away at keys, calling friends in between classes and navigating time-differences. Gratitude that I invite adventure into my life in small doses and controlled environments. Gratitude that life really does work out. At every turn on every street corner I told the world it was dark, it was scary, and it would hurt me. And every time I was proven wrong. 

Europe is beyond anything I would’ve expected. Not that I came in with any special expectations of the environment, I came in with expectations for myself. Push your limits. Do everything you’re scared of, at least once. Find meaning everywhere and in everything. Practice spontaneity. Take the reins of your life and create the life you’ve always wanted. Just weeks ago I sat myself on a Delta flight so ready to experience something, anything, different. But in doing so I accepted the potential that it could all go wrong. I could’ve broken limbs, offended locals,  lost all of my luggage, or missed transit. But recently I’ve learned more about rejecting failure. Or rather rejecting  feelings of failure. Where do we develop a fear of failure? What qualifies as failure? And what tells us that making mistakes is such a perilous thing? What led me to live motionless for as long as I did?

I  grew up so afraid of failure I stood still on roads I meant to walk further down. At a school assembly in middle school we had a public speaker come in and tell us we were perfectly situated as middle-class, suburban kids to waste our lives, not ruin them. So, my fear of failure developed into a fair of stagnation. How could I subject myself to inactivity, to nothingness until I had made the immeasurable  indication that I was ready, whatever that meant?  You’re never ready. And along the same lines, you’re always ready. 

I’ve always grown up around a multitude of teachers, leaders, and mentors. I’ve asked them questions and brought up personal concerns and conflicts. That which I didn’t have or didn’t know I went in search of. But everything I’ve learned from others and every mistake I circumvented led me to a different mistake, down a different road, and forced me to develop new skills and understand new people. I think that is the joy of life. Falling in love with the process. Realizing that there are no right answers when it comes to life-changing decisions and that everything you learn will come back around again. So embrace the world and all that it is because this is all you’ve got. You’ve only got one life, but if you live it the way you want, once is enough.

Friends, Fate, and Farewells (Or Just See You Laters)

Written by Swati

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk in my garden forever.” -Alfred Tennyson.

It’s not the sights or the architecture that make a place, it’s the people. Many of you will remember a trip I wrote about earlier in the semester to Scotland that completely changed the trajectory of how I traveled the past few months. I learned to seek out the brightness of life after thinking the world was a dark and soulless place. I learned to reach out a hand and see the world as something I could hold in my own two hands. I made two new friends, Safiya and Seungah, in line before the keshi concert in Glasgow and kept in touch with them through a groupchat, regularly sending them pictures and updates of my travels. Every weekend I’d beam from Portugal, Switzerland, Ireland, and London. 

In a sudden twist of events, they both had a free weekend at the end of April and found flights to Luxembourg. Never have I ever had someone spend 10 hours in transit to come see me. Until now. They flew from Scotland to London, London to Luxembourg, then took the train from Luxembourg to Metz just to spend 3 nights and 2 days in Metz. I had a loose itinerary of the things we should do together: Metz Cathedral, Marche Couvert, Fox Coffee, and a list of restaurants in the area that we could choose from. But, the best memories aren’t from the places that you go, but the conversations that you have. We spent most of our time in the AirBnB catching up, and in-and-out of boulangeries trying new French pastries. Sometimes you don’t find humans, you find souls. You find all warmth, and no ice. You find a shoulder to lay your head on, an encouraging smile from the crowd. Sometimes the universe plays too big a role in your life to attribute cosmic meetings to anything other than fate. There’s a line from my favorite Korean poem, Misiryung Sunset by Seongsun Lee. 

“내 몸에 우주가 손을 얹었다 //

너무 가볍다”

(The universe lays a hand on me // It is so light)

When I was in 10th grade, I heard about the concept of deism for the first time: God as the watchmaker, the timekeeper. And I connected to it. While I do identify as religious, I’ve had too many fateful occurrences to disbelieve a higher power pulling the strings in my life, I like to think I have a good amount of free will in my life. I believe God lays a hand on my shoulder at certain times, and leans me towards that which is meant for me. But there is no such thing as right decisions. Just choices and paths and the one that you walk down eventually, with all of its twists and turns, flower petals fall where they may.

I love spending time with people a little older than me. It’s the youngest sibling in me. My sister was born just a few years ago, but until I started high school, I received much of the family adoration, and I bloomed under it. I feel a similar sense of warmth around friends a few years older than me or others who are older siblings themselves. They have a protective, “I’ll take care of it” aura. When I’m with them I can laugh louder, smile bigger, and speak my mind. Everyone on the planet has their unique set of memories, values, and perspectives. And I think oftentimes the people a few years older than me best articulate their life experiences and lessons, while looking out for me in the meantime. Safiya and Seungah feel like my parents, the parents I should’ve had. Safiya, soft-spoken and gentle, a recently graduated Physics major from the University of Glasgow, always ready with a hug and snack in hand. Seungah, a leather jacket wearing, fist-bumping, graphic design student at the Glasgow School of Art. A cheesy line from every Korean drama is, “지켜줄게.”(I’ll protect you). Safiya and Seunagh said those words to me jokingly when I was telling them about something weighing down on my mind. While it’s a line people don’t take seriously, I’ll carry the affection in my heart at that moment for the rest of my life. What a gift it is to have people up in arms, ready to back me up at any time. The time I had with them was short, but precious beyond words. People are flowers, water them with care and shine on them with affection and watch them bloom in your garden forever.

I Need to Write

Written by Swati

April 22nd, 2023

Recently, I’ve been reading “Letters To a Young Poet” by Ranier Maria Rilke. Anyone who is familiar with poetry or even a layer of the beautiful words found on Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr would recognize some of his more famous lines. An Austrian poet writing mostly in German, some of his work includes sound bites like, “ Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” and “The only journey is the one within.” And one of my personal favorites, “This is the miracle that happens every time to those who love: the more they give, the more they possess.” 

His work is both raw and polished, gentle flow of water and jagged edges of rock. When I finally obtained my copy of the book, I learned more about the heart behind his work. The book is a collection of letters written by Rilke to the young aspiring poet Franz Xaver Kappus, who studied at the same school as him. Kappus originally writes to Rilke looking for literary criticism on his early works, but instead receives advice about introspection and purpose. Two of the most basic rules authors follow, in my amateur experience, are: when your brain is empty: read. When your brain is too full: write. And listen to what people are saying, but listen harder to what they’re not saying. But something Rilke mentions often in his book that wasn’t such a big focus in my journey is the sheer necessity of writers to write. He pushes strongly to the calling of literature, how writers would be stunted without the written word. One of the best parts of being human is slipping on a career like a pair of shoes and taking them off when you’re ready for something different. The only constant thing in life is change. We are constantly creating, building, and destroying. We are constantly hearing, understanding, and internalizing. We are anomalies and enigmas. We want to stay the same and we want to change. We want people to see us, but we never see ourselves. We want to be understood but cannot fathom understanding. 

What a fascinating life to live as an author. An author who calls everywhere and nowhere home, everyone and no one family, who can become anyone in the blink of an eye. What an incredible existence to be an artist in Europe who can take residence in any country and chooses a city like a roll of the dice and spins twists into their lives like a protagonist who controls their own story. 

A writer is an admirer of the world, always peering through the looking glass, putting up a magnifying glass to their lives, shining a flashlight on the Earth and zooming in on what hits the beam first.

I’ve found indescribable joy studying strangers on the street and in train cars, frantically typing out thoughts in my Notes app on transit, and flipping through old books in foreign bookstores. If there’s anything I hope you find in your life, it’s what makes you tick. What flips the switch on in your brain, the magnetic force that draws you to being human. For some of us it’s a need to write that leads us to the need to live and whatever it is for you: I hope you find it. 

A Love Letter to Metz

Written by Swati

April 21st, 2023

I’m sitting in Fox Coffee, the buzz of a pianist tapping away keys in the background, business men in meetings, friends catching up over coffee, and babies crying meld together, creating a harmony of chaos. Life is about finding peace in the turmoil, focus in the wreckage. Periodically taking a sip of my chai latte and glancing up at a man swiping on an iPad in John Lennon-esque glasses and another shuffling a handful of sketches in the corner, I feel the tension release from my shoulders as my vision clears. This must be the French joie de vivre. I finally feel it. I felt it so quickly in every other country, in every other city but I fought a battle with Metz during my first few months here. It’s a bit bittersweet to reach this conclusion so close to the end, but somewhere along the trek through muddy pathways and tapping excess rainwater out of my shoes, I fell for Metz in my own way. 

Metz kicked me when I was down, trickled rainwater into my teary eyes, then baked me chocolate eclairs, poured me a hot cup of tea and ran a hand through my hair, pressing a menu-etudiant in my hands when I had long forgotten about eating. Metz is a mother, taking my rage with a gentle hand, welcoming me back with warm, albeit misty and rainy, arms.  

Metz is taking off the mask, letting the facade go for a moment, wandering through a book festival and finding authors from different corners of the continent gathered in one place. Metz is knotted eyebrows and narrowed eyes bumbling through French conversations, picking out a few intelligible words and gesturing wildly in grocery stores. Metz is kind strangers with understanding eyes, encouraging smiles. It’s wondering who’s lying in intense games of One Night, suspecting new friends and questioning trust, observing strategy in a fierce game of Go. It’s slathering Nutella and strawberries into homemade crepes. 

In its own way Metz is both comfortable and suffocating, beautiful and boring, a calm pool of water next to the tumultuous sea. She is a baseline, a sanctuary, a suburban hideaway tucked away in the middle of madness. She is the last date before a breakup, wondering if the spark is still there. Whispered conversations over coffee, staring emptily at the ground, irreconcilable differences. Freedom from the chains of love or imprisonment in your solitude? Pick your poison. 

Metz is closing your eyes in the rare moments of sunlight, drinking up the precious, fleeting warmth. Metz smiles sadly as you grit your teeth, scribbling out half-hearted notes in class while staring out the window, always in wait for what’s next. She is a curious fusion of exhausted parents and spirited youth. Leather jackets and black puffer jackets populate the buses, dogs scamper next to their owners, teenagers dot the sidewalk, gasps blended with “c’est pas vrai!” and “mais non!” color their heartful conversations. 

Metz is now a piece of home, a shard of my heart, a worn couch cushion, every layer in a croissant. She is a complicated blend of chai, all of the emotions seeping together, each finding their own place in the mix.

Let’s Talk About You and Me

Written by Swati

April 14th, 2023

I realize now that I have fully sung the praises of every European city and country that I’ve been to and from the bottom of my heart, I believe every single word. But I also want to pay special attention to the bad days. The days you need a hug, the days you need your best friend on the phone to tell you she misses you and she’s just as proud of the person you’re becoming as you are, the days you wonder if you’ve changed at all after 17. 

At the end of the day, Europe won’t fix your problems. Studying abroad won’t fix your problems. Moving out of your house won’t fix your problems. Starting a new job won’t fix your problems. This is probably because most of your problems live in your head. Or because you’ll trade certain problems for other ones. And if you play your cards right, dealing with those new problems will instill in you the fight to learn how to fix or learn how to live with your other problems. Meeting new people and working with new personalities while planning trips is hard, but venturing out on your own and creating your own itineraries is also hard. Only doing homework and never spending time with people is hard, but spending all of your time socializing and falling behind in class is also hard. That which you are actively choosing not to do, indirectly chooses what you are doing.

The two most central conflicts at this point in the semester I think are balance and fighting the inner self, or rather teaching the inner self. Personally, I’m only on campus for 48 to 72 hours at a time. I got infinitely lucky with my schedule and have been able to commit a majority of my time to traveling, seeing the world, and constantly putting myself in controlled but new, and at times uncomfortable, situations to see how much I’ve grown. Hearing stories of other group trips and travels helps put a lot of things into perspective in terms of interpersonal conflict and interpersonal relationships. Change starts in your head. A change of scenery was what I needed to kickstart my journey as a young adult, but this arc has been a long time coming and I truly believe if you go into an experience knowing what you want, and having support in those decisions, you’ll get what you want, if not for what you need. Regardless of what happens, you’re growing. Regardless of what happens, you’re learning. And everything you pick up throughout the course of your life and every lesson you learn rears its head again later. I will say, the time comes in which you need to reach out to others to get support and it is my greatest wish that everyone is met with the same warmth when they need help as when they don’t. It’s difficult to heal, but it is worse to stay hurt. And to get past anything, the only way around is through. 

It is too cruel a world to hurl abuse at yourself. Be patient, be kind, and be gentle. It’s easier said than done of course, but is it not in our blood to fight and go in search of difficult victories? We are now creeping up to the end and I feel nothing but such intense joy for giving myself the permission and space to follow my heart and find wonder in the beauty of the world. So much good exists if only you remember to look for it. The sun comes in only if one remembers to open the blinds.Let’s Talk About You and Me

Monthly Musings #3: Make the Week(end)s Go Slower

Written by Swati

April 4th 2023

3 months, 9 countries, a lifetime of memories. Enough titles from bookstores to last me the next few years. Can we believe how quickly the semester has gone by? I’m trying to grasp on to the ends of every moment, but find them slipping through my fingers. This semester feels like sand on the weekends, shattered glass during the weeks. It’s difficult to recuperate from travel and the unwelcoming arms of classes on Mondays wrap around us like steel arms. The seconds pass like ice melts in the winter, my fingers creak over laptop keys. 

This month was growing pains. This month was hitting the wall, running my fingers over concrete, slipping over lakeside rocks, pulling myself out of knee-deep water with a laugh. Sometimes the world laughs at you, sometimes you laugh at yourself alongside it. I’ve learned it’s best not to take yourself too seriously in moments of distress. Somehow we find a way.  Somehow we will find a way. This month was train rides, observing strangers from toe to head, blinking away stray tears. This month was girls’ night in tiny kitchenettes, tender chicken cutlets over sauteed broccoli, giggling to the Mamma Mia soundtrack. This month was tears of affection, tears of exhaustion, tears of confusion, tears of uncontrollable joy. This month was fighting with the world, finding out that it won’t always fight back. This month was throwing my arms around strangers turned to sisters, chasing after stars at dusk. 

In Portugal I learned to admire. Literary landmarks, detailed porcelain tiles, the sun’s gentle caress. Life is sweet where the weather is nice. Or where people make the weather feel nice. And maybe that’s the secret to it all. In Belgium, I learned of the sweetness of simplicity. Chocolate shops, bookstores, and walks along canals. In Ireland I learned to love big. Throw my arms around the world and feel what it’s like to have it wrap me in its warmth and chaos. I learned to ask small questions, await big answers. I learned to do the things I thought I would hate just to give it a chance, sometimes hectic pays off. And in Switzerland I learned to never control my awe of things big and small. The relief of reunion, a newly bloomed spring tree, a groomed dog’s soft coat, a father gently guiding his toddler by the Swiss riverside, a necklace for my best friend. Ducks swimming forward, looking you right in the eye, telling you a secret. This month I learned to skip through empty streets and spin around my room at midnight. Falling is another way to learn how to fly. I learned how to lean on the people around me and found comfort in the similarity of our experiences. I took off the rose colored glasses and realized the petals were beneath my feet the whole time. Everything comes back, but youth never does, not in quite the same form at least. If I could do anything, I’d stop time. I’d freeze it now, as I write this and look back on memorabilia that already means the world to me. I’d freeze it every second of this semester. I’d make these past few months everlasting. But the fact that they are fleeting makes them all the more precious. 

From London With All My Love

Written by Swati

April 13th 2023

London, London, London, how I truly love you. Being in London is like slipping on your old favorite shoes, flipping through your favorite childhood book, finding a sweatshirt that fits just right. Wandering through Kensington and Westminster, I felt my heart fill up with the greatest sense of belonging. London bookstores feel like a boost of glucose straight to your bloodstream. A perfect mix of classics and currents, well-loved second hand treasures and mint condition newly printed novels. So many cornerstone female and feminist authors hail from these streets: Virginia Woolf, the Bronte sisters, and Mary Wollstonecraft. I spend many hours digging through bookshelves to find their stories and muses. Life in London is a thrill, it’s a city that’s exciting, it’s a city that’s inviting. Londoners, in my experience, also went out of their ways to help me. At the British Library, a man drew me a map to his favorite bookstores nearby and told me to be safe in the protesting Parisian streets when I Ieft England. Two elderly women stopped me on my march to the train station to let me know my backpack was open and made sure nothing fell out. Every upbeat pop song that dances through my head feels just right in the city. The brick architecture, the newly restored Big Ben, the London Bridge that is not actually falling down. It feels like the buzz of New York with the charm of Paris. As soon as I stepped off the platform at St Pancras International Station on Thursday morning I put on the rose colored glasses of life and didn’t take them off for six full days.

I spent my first and last day in and around books, The British Library, where I registered myself for a library card (my favorite souvenir!), and three bookstores, Waterstones, Judd Books, and Collinge and Clark for collectors. Taking the day to settle in and pop into shops while strolling the streets was the perfect beginning to my London adventure. I ran into the Thursday afternoon street market by University College London and found an Indian street food stand run by a Tamil man, from the same hometown as my mother, who made chicken curry that tasted the same as my grandfather’s. I spent hours flipping through old novels and found books written by the philosopher I met on the train in Italy. Over the next few days I saw the London Eye, Big Ben, Kensington and Buckingham Palaces, walked the streets of Soho and Chinatown, spent a morning in Wales, fell hard for the Phantom of the Opera, and indulged in English breakfasts and tea.

London is not just a place, it’s a feeling. High tea with delicate sandwiches, flower petals falling between pages, sun sparkling on the Thames. My mother says I fell in love with London before I even knew what love was. And after this past weekend, I can fully attest to that. I love people watching on the Chube, despite how slow it is. I love afternoon strolls in the Kensington Palace gardens, the fields gently caressed by clusters of spring flowers. I love walking down the streets and seeing black trench coat-clad shoulders and simple leather bags, haphazardly layered gold necklaces. I love the hum of traffic along Portobello Road, the jewelry stalls in Camden Market, the busking in Covent Garden. I like to think London taught me what love is. As soon as I stepped off the platform, it was at first sight that I fell. Dearest mum, you could’ve made me English. What a shame. Never mind the past. London, I will be back. For a year or two at the very least, the better part of this lifetime if I’m lucky.