My Study Abroad in Europe Was Just as Life-Changing As Everyone Said It Would Be

I learned that I’m obsessed with sunsets. You might even be able to say they’re a passion of mine. I learned that no photo will ever do the real thing justice—but the third Snapchat filter comes pretty close. I learned that the view from my fourth-floor balcony was better than my friend’s view from the third floor, and I learned that, even though the sun sets every single night, I would still pause my movie to watch it.

I learned that “tack” means thank you and that saying “hej” once just isn’t enough. I learned that most people speak more than one language, and I learned that I suck at learning new languages. I learned how universal English really is and how my sarcasm can still be understood thousands of miles from home. I learned that being tall and blonde in Europe means being German or Dutch or Scandinavian, and I learned that it only takes the word “sorry” for people to realize you’re North American.

I learned that I love cobblestone streets until I have to walk on them. I learned that chai lattes taste a little better if you drink them on a patio instead of indoors—and I learned that you never need a good excuse to eat a cinnamon bun. I learned the value of coffee breaks—even if I would probably never like the taste of coffee.

I learned that eye contact on the Metro is basically harassment. I learned that you have to stand on the right side of the escalator and to never stand too close to someone you don’t know. I learned to say “crowns” instead of “kronor,” and I learned that the view from a rooftop bar isn't worth an $11 beer.

I learned that I’m really not a museum person, but I learned to walk through exhibits and stare at artwork as though I knew what I was looking at. I also learned that it's exhausting to pretend to care about a ship that sank 300 years ago. I learned that I really don’t understand modern art. I learned that I’d rather get lost in downtown cafés and vintage shops than take a tour through the Royal Palace—but I learned that the photography museum was worth the $20 entry.

I learned to never take sunlight for granted. I learned to fit a day’s worth of adventure into six hours of daylight, and I learned that it’s impossible to sleep when it’s dark all day. I learned to never take nighttime for granted. I learned that my fourth-floor view isn’t so great when the sun blinds you at 4 a.m. I learned to go to sleep and wake up and never see darkness, and I learned that watching horror movies when the sun is still out isn’t as fun.

I learned that I’m not as afraid of planes as I thought I was. I learned that navigating the subway system is actually pretty easy, and I also learned that the transit doesn’t run all night on weekdays. I learned that friendship has no borders and that there is no place like home. I learned that I love to travel, but I also learned that I love having a place to come back to. I learned that my family means everything, and I learned that no matter far I go, I really can go home again.

They say that studying abroad is a life-changing experience. I don’t know who “they” are, but they were right.