The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The way home; notes from Europe

Everyone who spends a semester or longer studying abroad has their own motives for doing so.

Last year, I decided to spend a semester in Finland for two very important reasons: My love of cold weather and a booming heavy metal scene. Having a top-five education system in virtually every subject and grade level certainly helped make my decision easier.

Although I’m in the negligibly small minority of Blugolds who enjoy endless snow and Devin Townsend, I’m sure many can relate to the other main reasons I decided to pull the trigger on this adventure.

I needed a break from my semester-to-semester routine, and I wanted to travel somewhere far beyond the realm of the Chippewa Valley. So with all this in mind, I got exactly what I was looking for, and then some.

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In addition to experiencing the real frozen tundra (Finland straddles the Arctic Circle) and indulging in an endless amount of heavy metal, I lost nearly 60 pounds in the eight months I spent venturing around Europe.

The concept of an “all-access” meal plan simply did not exist at TAMK University in Tampere, Finland. The nearest student cafeteria was five miles from my living quarters.

As a whole, Finland is quite expensive. Essentially, eating less food caused me to drop a large chunk of weight.

It’s much easier to avoid temptation when the nearest reasonably-priced food source is two miles away and up a large hill that is bigger and steeper than “The Hill.”

The other chunk of lost weight came from an insane summer that consisted of metal festivals, long walks in major cities such as London, Berlin and Prague, and hitchhiking.

Hitchhiking seems to be a taboo of sorts nowadays. The fact of the matter is, if I didn’t go hitchhiking, I wouldn’t have the experiences that I came home with.

It didn’t matter if I was picked up by a Latvian trucker or a Danish family; many people I talked to on the road were friendly and more than willing to take me with them without expecting anything other than conversation and eternal gratitude in return. Some drivers even allowed me to stay at their place for a night while I arranged another place to stay.

Most importantly, I realized that if I never back down from a challenge, then I can accomplish anything. That sounds cheesy, but even when hitchhiking attempts went absolutely haywire beyond description, I never gave up on reaching my target because I simply didn’t see it as an option.

It certainly puts my upcoming semester schedule that includes 17 credits and two jobs into perspective. If I can travel across the entire Baltic region in one day and then walk 20 miles to the center of a city I had never even seen a map of prior to arriving there with over 50 pounds of gear, then how hard can this semester possibly be?

Equally rewarding was returning to campus, only to not be recognized by many of the people who weren’t keeping tabs on my trip.

I’m not going to preach about how doing a study abroad semester and post-study trip my way is the best way to go about it, because it’s not for everybody.

What I will say, though, is that if you have the opportunity to spend a semester in a place that sounds like it would be your version of heaven, then take it. The rewards of global exploration and self-discovery far outweigh any material and/or financial cost that may be incurred by taking on an adventure like this.

Where you go, what you do, and how you do it is entirely up to you.

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The way home; notes from Europe