“epic”

There’s something absolutely predictable yet entirely crazy and out of the blue that happens. One moment you’re in the everyday, and a lot of it just feels so normal, and you sit and wonder: “I thought this was supposed to be EPIC.” And there are days when you are simply on the verge of tears wondering why you’re here, wondering what your life will look like when you get “home”, wondering why it all happens like it does. And then somehow the longest days and those shining moments warp into something else and suddenly you’re sitting in Vaclav Havel Airport and you’re going to get on a plane in a few hours and you’re definitely breaking the “not crying alone in public” rule. And you are so full of this sense that yes, EPIC, whatever that is, just happened.

 

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Deciding to study abroad—I didn’t know exactly why I was doing this. Heck, I applied to the program a good week after the final registration date. I don’t know the moment it became clear, I just know that somewhere along the way in the past couple years something shifted in me, and it told me that that I was too afraid. I was too afraid of not finding that thing that drives me. I was afraid that I would find it and then fall and fail, or worse, not have the guts to run after it at all. I was afraid that I would spend the next two years clinically weighing every decision and wondering exactly what I was called to do and then never doing anything meaningful at all. I wanted desperately to be able to look at my life, my purpose and to hold it in my hands. I wanted to turn it over and run my fingers over its curves and edges, unsure of exactly what would be revealed with each passing day but confident that this thing I held was being transformed into the thing the craftsman had designed it to be.

 

So I signed the papers (there were a lot of them). This was it, I said. I walked confidently through the airport gate, waved goodbye to mom and dad. I was unusually calm—I knew that this was where I was supposed to be.

 

Fast-forward a month, and I’m sitting on the tarmac in London on a plane bound for Prague with about thirty other students I’ve just met in 5 am exhausted top-notch shape. That was the first time I felt the doubt nagging at me again, that fear that initially prompted me to fly halfway across the world for a semester. Fake it til you make it, I told myself. Let’s be honest, all of us were doing the same thing. And that’s how it was for a while—all of us trying to make it through, fighting for the chance to have that epic experience, to grow, to do whatever it was that we had set out to do.

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And then, in the midst of all that fighting to stay afloat, we figured out that we were all there in that metaphorical water together. And that maybe this wasn’t about creating some perfect semester—it was about letting go of trying to make it perfect.

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Last night, thirty or so of us were crammed into a tiny dorm room, shoulder to shoulder sharing tears and stories, just wanting to be in the same space for one last time. I looked around the room at these crazy people, singing along to Elton John and good ole Billy Joel, holding on to each other. The room felt different already—a few people had already boarded planes, said their tear filled goodbyes. That very morning we all gathered in our pjs in the lobby to hug them one more time when we could all say, ‘This is our home.” So many different faces, so many stories, and goodness knows we’ve all got our own unique past. Those hours showed me once again that loving people is worth the pain accompanying it. And what’s more, that people will surprise you if you let yourself get close enough to be surprised. And that if you have the guts to let go, you might even surprise yourself.

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I know you’re probably wondering what I learned, how I changed. And I could answer you in more than a hundred different ways.

 

I learned there’s a reason Czechs drink a lot of beer: it’s good beer.

 

I learned how to live when there was no clear task to undertake or assignment to complete. I’ve never had too much difficulty dealing with a hiccup in a plan or a logistical fluke. That’s easy—see it, do something about it. But I had to learn to let myself live outside the confines of the routine and the prescribed path. I learned to figure out what it was that I wanted, and then did it.

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I’ve learned that sometimes you have to stop thinking and just trust the path these familiar shoes lead you on.

 

I’ve learned life is boring without risks. And that sometimes plans are made to be broken. When the train is supposed to drop you off for a four hour layover in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, you ride that sucker ‘til you find a place to rest your head.

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I learned that overalls are the perfect cure for construction worker “plumber butt” and that clothing dryers are underrated.

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But mostly I learned how to live fuller, freer days—not by some big mind explosion moment. I learned it by living with these thirty something goons—I learned it from their big hugs and bigger hearts, from dance moves and not so smooth moves, from the spring in the step as we board the bus for yet another weekend trip, the not-so-dull roar of excitement and the quiet of an evening spent snuggled up together when the day seemed just too much, the mad dash up the metro steps for a victory lap and the equally mad sprint to catch that last metro, the thrill of an early morning bike ride and the ensuing exhaustion well-worth the memory, the creative cooking solutions and flooded shower mopping-up. I learned from their honest tears and questions and conversations.

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Looking back now, I can see myself getting in my own way, so frustrated that I can’t hold that perfect plan in my hands, and all the while failing to realize that I’m living in it, if only I can just look up. And when you look up, suddenly you realize that in all those efforts to figure it out and do it just right you lose yourself. You lose the freedom to be human, which is to be messy, to be full of question and desire and an ache for something beyond us.

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But this group, in the accumulation of all those little ordinary moments, they taught me the beauty of honest messiness and the perfect timing God has for all of it.

 

And if that isn’t epic, well then, I don’t care. Because it’s more than enough for me.

 

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Sunday Funday

Only a bit of a blurb today—I’m in the “finals frenzy” and I can’t quite qualify too much more procrastination.

 

Another week gone, and I find myself with less than a week left in Prague. Five days.

 

The way that those words hover in my fingertips before they hit the keys seems to capture best the disbelief, the bursts of excitement and anxiety and expectation and reluctance and confusion that have marked my last few days. How many songs have they written about this—the whole “don’t blink” syndrome? My parents and brother have over the years witnessed quite a few many Megan-meltdowns as I lament the swift passage of time (remember that November I actually burst into tears because fall went by too quickly?)

 

Today myself and Alyssa and Liv and Brookie and James are sitting in a pew at St. Thomas. It’s First Communion Day and the kids are just glowing, this seven year old girl proclaims the reading in a way that says, “Hey people, listen up—things are getting real here,” the acapella trio choir is joined enthusiastically by the congregation. We’re all just so light, and when we hug each other for the sign of peace we all know we’re in the same place. We’ve been in that “funk” for a few days now—that “funk” where we question: Did I do the right thing coming abroad? Did I use my time well? What will it be like going back? Did I allow myself to grow, even if it was painful? The list rattles on and on. But standing next to each other there, we can’t help but just smile and hold each other tight and forget all the hesitation for a while because we realize how much we’ve grown to love each other.

 

So bring on that rainy day, we say. We gather in a dorm room, bumping into each other in the kitchen as we make pancakes and eggs, and one knock on the door at a time we fill up the room. We’ve all got people back at home, people we love and miss and cry over and cry to. But on a rainy Sunday, we also have each other.

 

‘Til next time

 

One Bus at a Time

I’m writing this post on a bus in the hills of southern Czech Republic! We’re headed back after our final group weekend trip. This excursion took us to Ceske Budejovice and Cesky Krumlov, (two idyllic towns in the Southern Bohemian countryside), to Salzburg, and to the Eagles Nest.

As the weeks left are winding down, we’ve begun a sort of “Last Days in Prague Bucket ist” which mostly involved revisiting favorite eateries and sites. On top of that I’ve managed to visit a few new places. This Thursday I finally visited a little café off Narodni street that I’ve passed dozens of times, each time saying I’ll go this week!(but never actually going). Z also led a group of us to the largest botanical gardens in the Czech Republic just a little under an hour outside of city center via metro and bus. The flowers were positively stunning and it was a nice escape into the quiet of nature for a while.

Selfies with Z at the gardens

Selfies with Z at the gardens

The gardens

The gardens

The days keep on flying and I mostly just can’t believe that we have two weeks left in Prague! (That also means two weeks to plan all the post-Prague travels, which is equally intimidating).

With this “the end is near!” mindset we set off on Friday morning for the Czech towns of Ceske Budejovice (where we toured the Budvar factory and got some samples—nothing like beer at 11:30 am) and then to Cesky Krumlov. This city was particularly beautiful, and in some ways reminded me of Bruges. I’m not sure what it was because they are quite different—Bruges is obviously much more Western and the canals set it apart. But Cesky Krumlov had the same sort of romance, and it had its own little castle as well with a beautiful view of the Vltava River. The weather was a bit too unpredictable for canoeing on the river but we got to enjoy the city and its abundant charm. We spent the night in Ceske Budejovice where it seemed we owned the hotel for the night, complete with inordinately large rooms. This of course made for some nice “hotel partyin’” (ie cramming into one room and letting the good times roll).

Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov

Brookie enjoying the Budweiser

Brookie enjoying the Budweiser

Come morning we set off for Austria, but first stopped at Rozemberg Castle, with its own ghost in residence who has been showing up for centuries. We rolled into Salzburg after a beautiful drive through the Bohemian countryside and the Alps. Friends Brenna and Kim are both studying in Salzie so myself and fellow AIFS/Drake friend Kat joined them for a little Drake University reunion on the lock bridge. They graciously showed us around, led us to some delicious chocolate and pretzels, and took us to the Mirabell Gardens. We bid farewell then and rejoined with some of the group for a delicious Austrian dinner. After resting up we had one final international hurrah at the Shamrock Pub.

Bussing through the Alps

Bussing through the Alps

Reuniting with Brenna on the lock bridge in Salzburg

Reuniting with Brenna on the lock bridge in Salzburg

Today was the Sound of Music tour and then the great sojourn home, with a stop at the Eagle’s Nest (Hitler’s personal retreat in the Alps) and with some Apple strudel that made the really rainy weather a bit more bearable.

The Mirabell Gardens--cue the music

The Mirabell Gardens–cue the music

A bit rainy at the Sound of Music gazebo

A bit rainy at the Sound of Music gazebo

Sound of Music tours

Sound of Music tours

View from the Eagles Nest

View from the Eagles Nest

Not quite four months ago we got onto the bus for our first excursion into the Moravian countryside–today we arrive back at Masarykova Kolej with a few more kilometers on that bus odometer, and a bundle of memories to carry home with us. As Tolkein might have put it, One bus at a time, we traveled quite far.

And on the most important note, Happy Mother’s Day to my own mama and to all the women in my life who have been models of strength, compassion, and that feminine genius!

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

‘Til next time

The Week in 300 Words

A highlight reel from another week in Prague!

 

On Monday in my Jewish History class we participated in a ceremony in Namesti Miru as part of “Jam-ha-Shoa,” the worldwide Holocaust Remembrance day. We individually read off the names of victims of the Holocaust and got to listen to others read it in their own languages.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Holocaust Remembrance Day

 

Jom ha-Shoa ceremony

Jom ha-Shoa ceremony

Tuesday myself and a few of the girls went for late night food at a roof-top restaurant that Lyss found. It had a beautiful view of the lit-up city, as well as a great beer menu.

 

View from the rooftop dinner

View from the rooftop dinner

Wednesday after classes most of the girls from my program got on a bus to Croatia for the weekend. Luckily the guys were still around so we had a great night of trivia at The Globe (of which we were the victors!).

 

Thursday I hit up a few new cafes to work on homework and in the evening got to have dinner with Alyssa and her mom and grandma who are in town to visit. It was a treat to be with a family for an evening, and definitely made me miss being with the people I love most.

 

An excellent exhibition including handwritten notes, sketches, and 3-D models

An excellent exhibition including handwritten notes, sketches, and 3-D models

Friday I took the day to see some things in Prague that have been on the list for a long time. That included the Tim Burton exhibition and Vysehrad Castle and its grounds.

 

Vysehrad

Vysehrad

Vysehrad

Vysehrad

Saturday I caught an early train to Germany and hiked to the Bastei Bridge. When I got back to Prague, I met up with Madeleine and her family and joined in on their evening fun—karaoke and late night pub food!

 

The Elbe River

The Elbe River

Bastei Bridge

Bastei Bridge

 

Pretty awesome rock formations

Pretty awesome rock formations

Obligatory selfie to prove I actually went

Obligatory selfie to prove I actually went

This evening I attended Don Giovanni at the Estates Theatre, which was written by Mozart right here in Prague.

 

Another week, another bundle of memories.

 

‘Til next time