Tuesday, August 16, 2011


This week has been incredible! Quick recap-

- completed my European vacation that included stops in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, and Munich.
- moved into my first-ever apartment. I'm living on campus at UT for my second year now and totally love it.
- have met so many freshmen I hardly know what to do with myself!

That's the "Reader's Digest version" (or as my techy sister likes to say, the "Twitter version" lol). Allow me to elaborate.

So- in order for me to RETURN to school, I had to travel for 35.5 hours, to be exact. Long story short, we ended up changing our travel plans and spent a few days in Prague instead of going to Geneva. I already had my plane ticket out of Geneva and it would have been $1,100 for me to change it (believe me...I looked into it...it took a ton of research to figure this out!) I ended my trip in Munich with my sister and our other traveling companion (and Amanda's former roommate and best friend), Gail, and had to figure out how to get myself to Geneva for my flight out! Amanda and Gail were continuing their trip down to Italy via overnight train the next day so I was flying solo (quite literally...excuse the pun) on this one. I ended up finding a train ticket for about $100 from Munich to Geneva. The only problem? I had to transfer trains 3 times AND the train ride was over night. Woah. It went a little something something like this:

Leave Munich at 7pm. Arrive in who-knows-where Germany at 11pm. Leave to who-knows-where Germany-place #2 at 11:45pm. Arrive in border-of-Germany-and-Switzerland-who-knows-where 1:20am. Wait in the train station, by myself, from 1:20am-3:45 am (...the very worst part! I was too paranoid I would miss my train if I fell asleep, so I just stayed awake. uggh!). Leave border-land-middle-of-no-where at 3:45am. Arrive in just-barely-in-the-country-Switzerland at 4:40am. Wait in that train station (with plenty of drunk people, might I add...and...oddly enough- a goth couple who could not stop making out...ok they have some mighty weird people over there- especially at 4:30 in the morning!) Leave at 5:45am for Geneva (finally! last train!). Sleep on this train and arrive in Geneva at 8am.

Leave Geneva at 9:20am and fly for 9.5 hours to New Jersey. Arrive in New Jersey at 11:30 am( yes, i went backwards in time...how special!) Once I got to the Newark Airport, it was pouring rain! I was planning on going out to Time Square (about 20 minutes away from the airport via metro) however, the metro ticket was like $25 (unbelievably high!! normally metro tickets are like $3-7 for round trip) AND it was pouring rain. Well, my layover was originally 7 hours long. After I came back from the metro station and figuring out I wasnt going into the city, I checked my flight and it had been delayed by another 2.5 hours! Oh dear. So, there I sat. In the airport. For 9.5 hours when all I wanted to do was go home and see Laura (who was to pick me up at the airport in Knoxville). Thankfully I have amazing friends and they were willing to pick me up once I arrived in Knoxville around 11pm. I was so exhausted and they were gracious to me. Thankfully I checked into my apartment no problem and literally slinked myself up into my room on the 5th floor (hell-ooooo elevator!)

Anyways, you may say "Aww poor Kate!" or "Wow what a journey!" or "ohmygoodness she's so independent". Well, believe what you will, but I think it was plain old exhausting. Traveling is super fun and you gain a totally new perspective on yourself and your culture (...I'm living in 2 cultures at once right now...I'm from California but go to school in TN...believe me, it's 2 cultures rolled into one human experience).

I think one of the best parts about this entire 35.5 hour journey back to school was the 2nd "train layover" from 1:20am-3:45 a. You see- I have this hammock. It is one of my favourite possessions. I got it for 50 bucks off some website in Austria (yes, I know, it would have been more reasonable for it to have come from Puerto Rico, but apparently the Austrians like hammocks too...go figure!) I especially love summer and spring in TN because it is hot and humid! I love being outside and sitting in my hammock, under the shade of a tree, reading a classic piece of literature, and sipping lemonaide...? come on, how can you beat that?
Anyways, my hammocking experience at Train Station #3 in border-of-Germany-and-Switzerland-who-knows-where was pretty much the opposite of the scene I have just described. Let me give you a breakdown that went a lil somethin'-somethin' like this:

I fell asleep on Train #2 and somehow my little travel alarm clock didnt work to wake me up! Thankfully, I had already thought of this and knew that I was riding this train all the way to the end of the line, so if worse came to worse, I would just wake up in the train station where I was supposed to get off once the train stopped moving. Well, you see, I look very European (apparently French...as we quickly found out!...another story you'll have to ask me about) so whenever European strangers encounter me, they speak to me in French. This is super unfortunate because, while I am flattered I dont LOOK like a tacky American tourist, I do not speak a lick of French (well, NOW I do, maybe). All this to say, I was awakened from my slumber on Train#2 by a German conductor who was speaking French to me. I take out my earplugs and say in English "what?" without even thinking that he may not speak English (oh dear!) In a hod-podge of languages (with me understanding only about 2 out of the 4 he tried) I learn that we are at the end of the line and I must get off the train before it leaves! In a flurry I grab my items (which I have since become quite a pro at handling and carrying all by myself all over anywhere) and race off Train #2.
I find my correct platform (where Train #3 will leave from) and see the other sleepy teens and twenties catching some zzz's on the benches. Being the classy person I am, I do not want to take my chance and A) sit next to a drunk guy B) have some chatty 40 year old try to speak French to me at 1:20 in the morning C) make any type of contact with any other human being at this time in the morning. So! I find myself a mini-billboard sign that holds an advertisement for perfume (of course! so me...) and prop myself against my suitcase while looping my arm through my purse and backpack, least any thug tries to run off with them. As I am dozing in that all-too-familiar-land of in between reality and dreamworld, I am thinking about TN and sleeping in my hammock. All of a sudden I become super excited and realize that in my spur-of-the-m0ment-packing-spree in CA, I packed my hammock in my Europe bags instead of my "things to be shipped to TN" bags!! You see, the billboard I was resting against had 2 posts and they were *literally* the perfect distance apart for me to stretch out my hammock.

I pull out and set up my hammock all as other trains rumble past. I pop in my iPod (which only has a limited amount of battery power left...eeeps!) and listen to a sermon. Ok, I dont know why, but music puts me to sleep. Especially the type of music that I love to listen to and have on my iPod. But give me an acclaimed theologian, and I'll be up for hours. Yeah, go figure. It was a little past 2am at this point in time. So- that's exactly what I did. I chilled in my hammock and dozed on and off and set my travel alarm clock (yes...the one that had failed me just and hour and a half before...so nervous!) for an hour before I needed to get up just in case it decided to not go off this time. Good thing I DID set the alarm because I HAD fallen asleep and woke up with plenty of time to pack up my hammock, hit the loo, and catch Train #3.

Each of the rest of the trains had their own personalities (drunks, goths, lovers, a kid playing the guitar [go figure...why not play guitar at 4:30am? you know...] and the likes. basically none of the respectable people who take trains in the daytime), yet I will not fatigue your eyes by listing each one of the quirks of the rest of these trains.

The point is, I made it back to TN! I did, I really did. It was very comical to me because I felt like Ponce de Leon or somebody just for making it back to the place where I should be living and apparently everyone thought it was quite an accomplishment too because they kept saying things like "You're alive!!!" and looking very surprised to see me (believe me- 4 people so far have literally said "you're alive!!!")

Reunion. Reunite. Reconnect.
You see, I have attended 2 different universities and 1 college and each year it was like a "freshman experience" all over again. I never realized it, because, for me, that's how college was. Awkward times of people talking about traditions and years gone by and "local stuff". Thankfully for me, I found a group of fellow students who were the "locals" and took me under their wing for a while and were kind enough to show me around town, teach me the lingo, and break me in on the traditions. Hence? Returning this year with the "no-longer-freshman-deer-in-the-headlights-look".

When I first got back (well, I should say the 1st real day I got back...the 1st night from 11-12:30am in the airport, driving home, and crashing on my new bed doesnt really count), everything was as I left it. I had the same thing happen when I got back from Kenya. I flew for hours and hours on end to reach my family in CA and once I arrived, it was like a dream was broken. I know a couple of friends who did missions this summer and lived in different states, went overseas, worked at camps, etc., where the environment was *very* different than it is here at a major state university with 25,000 students all milling around. Nonetheless! let me say how GOOD it is to be back in TN! Kindly, Heat and Humidity have welcomed me back and have graced me with highs of 92 degrees, lows of 70 degrees, and about 75% humidity around the clock.

This week will be a time of transition for many people (transfers...freshmen...international students) including me. It is hard to think that just a few (ok more than a few) hours ago I was on the other side of the world. Where people spoke French to me. And I blindly looked at them and asked "Uhh English, please?" Here, people ONLY speak English to me, they ALL know that I only speak English (and ASL) and will come up to me and love on me.

Sometimes reunions dont go as you think. Sometimes there are people you left behind that need to stay reserved in the memory books of your mind and not carry over into a new year/life experience. But, then again, there are some who hardly require any reuniting with at all due to constant communication over the summer (thank you, Facebook!)

As you reunite with your old friends and as you unite with new ones, let your character and personality shine through. Last year I hung out with a group of people that I didnt really fit in with. They were always telling me (or at least hinting to me) that I was too loud, too energetic, too flamboyant, too outgoing. Towards the end of the year I found another group of people who are very much the same as I am (hell-oooo theater people; you guys are just ridiculous and wild! ha!) New students? Test out different groups of people. Just because you were friends with someone at the beginning of the year doesnt mean that you need to stick those friendships through til your graduating days. Date some different people that you wouldnt really expect to be your "type". You will be amazed at what you find and how *much* you learn about yourself. With all this in mind, DO take time to put down roots. DO find something that you are passionate about and do it because you love it and you love the people involved with it.

All in all, have a wonderful time jumping into a new school year and dont for get to have a small reunion :)

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