After an incredibly intense four weeks, traveling with a group of 25 fellow university students, across the landscape of Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula and the planes of the Western Front, covering both Belgium and France, with a brief interlude in Italy somewhere in between the two, it all came to an end two nights ago. I had hoped to have the opportunity to blog throughout the trip but that was impossible in-between sleep, meals, incredibly long contact hours and study. To be fair we were given a little breathing room here and there, but I spent that time doing just that – breathing, and taking little snippets of time out of the otherwise jam packed schedule.
This past month has been incredible. I have learnt more than I could’ve ever imagined, been shown and told about the places visited by perhaps one of the most passionate and knowledgeable professors on the subject. I have been incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity and undertake this study tour, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t cause me to lose my mind once or twice and fight for fresh air in the bubble that forms around the unit.
Towards the end of the fourth week it dawned on me similarities between this experience and one I had 4 years ago when I went with a school group of 17 girls to Vietnam and Cambodia. Both of these trips challenged me in various ways. The first of which taught me some of the most valuable lessons I think I have ever learnt in life. The second saw me put those into practice with a vigour that I know has been built upon by my exchange experience last year as well. I learnt how to step back, be quiet and appreciate other people’s perspectives. More than anything I am extremely cautious of not wanting to tread on anyone’s toes or seem imposing.
It is with this in mind that I arrived in the Netherlands this morning and took the train to Leiden.
Whilst sitting on the train I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, simultaneous combination of extreme happiness and sadness, and more than anything pining for the memory of my life here. I had the most phenomenal experience to date living in this town. I grew and changed more than I ever thought possible and I made decisions that I have devoted my best efforts towards. I found myself stuck at a perplexing space of mind. I love Melbourne and I have been so excited to get back there. This precise thought has been constantly on my mind for quite some time now. But I found myself overwhelmed by the memory of my life here in Leiden, The Netherlands, Europe, and questioning what and where and why.
I was beyond confused and quite upset at this point. Internally struggling with the perplexity of my situation until a voice of reason pushed it all aside and helped me see clearly. That voice of course came from someone who knows exactly how I feel, because returning from the exchange we had has resonated with each of us in a particular way. Coming back to Melbourne, making the choices we have, with the world of opportunities open to us as it is, is terrifying and uncertain at times.
I had the most incredible day going home to Leiden today. As soon as I got there I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I wandered down the streets that I rode my bike down hundreds of times, and I looked at the place that I have never grown tired of adoring. I strolled through the market and recognised the familiar faces of shop keepers. I went to my favourite cafe and ordered my favourite coffee, a coconut latte, (a feat that I took considerable time investigating while I lived there & this was the best of what was available). I walked home. I stood and stared up at my building, remembering some of the times I had spent in it and thinking of the view from my window that greats me every time I turn my phone on. I walked along the canal pausing to take photos and soak it all in. I walked down to the widest section of the canal that I refer to as ‘the lake’ where I used to jog around. It was beautiful and I loved it. I had a splendid day and I am looking forward to nothing more than going home to Melbourne tomorrow, to the life that I chose and that I adore, and more than anything to the people who make it everything that it is.
I’ll see you soon Melbourne.
Until next time Leiden.