Pain. Songs, poems, and plays have depicted this feeling throughout time as humans attempt to grasp the strong emotions wrapped up in this simple, four-letter word. Wherever man treads, there he finds pain. Simply take a look at history, pages and pages are filled with words of pain and suffering. War. Fighting. Genocide. Death. No history book is complete without these signs of conflict and pain. How can we think that our lives can be whole without pain as well?

Take another look at history. Can peace be achieved without war? Can reconciliation be reached without a struggle? It is through battles that victories are won and combat leads to resolution. Because we cannot escape pain, we allow it to build us up making us stronger as we fight through our situations.

Back in the United States, the last five days have been filled with pain. Never, in all my twenty years, have I encountered such heartache. Since saying goodbye to Bulgaria, Southeastern Europe, and all the friends I made while there, my days have been filled with survival techniques. Sleeping, running, reading, shopping, and talking are my feeble attempts at filling the hole in my heart.

However, as much as this pain hurts, it reminds me that I am human, filled with love and loved in return. I hold onto this pain because it reminds me of all the wonderful memories I created while in Bulgaria. Under no circumstances would I trade this weight for anything in the world, knowing that with the pain comes hope. Hope that, although we are separated for the moment, we will be reunited in the future when our bonds of friendship are strengthened with time.

Before clay can become a beautiful piece of art, it must be painstakingly molded by the potter’s hands. In this way, the pain I am now feeling is shaping me into the woman I am meant to be. Though the process is not meant to be pleasant, the outcome is well worth all the agony felt up to that point. Patiently, the potter is forming me into the stunning creation he intended me to be before he began. Holding onto this pain, I will fight to become a better sister, friend, and person as time slowly heals my wounds. Pain will only last for a moment, but the results will last forever!


Oh, the People You Will Meet

(some of the friends I have made this semester)

Months ago, when I was preparing to embark on my journey to Eastern Europe, I was told to take lots of pictures and travel as much as possible. As you can tell from reading my blog and looking at my Facebook, I have taken these words of advice to heart; making the most of my time in Bulgaria. However, one thing I was not prepared for was the people I would meet. Of course, I hoped that I would make new friends, but I was not ready to make people more important than traveling.

Obviously, my future had different plans for me. The community at AUBG has quickly become my family; filled with students from Bulgaria, America, Russia, Germany, France, Spain, Ireland, Turkey, the Netherlands, Estonia, and Poland. As I spend my days, as well as my nights, with these people, I feel my heart stretching to include them all; integrating them into my very self. Unfortunately, as the time nears for me to return to the United States, I feel my heart beginning to break.

Clearly, I love and miss my friends and family in the U.S., but now my heart contains people from all over the world. Hopefully, I will reunite with many of them in the future, but I know there will never be another time like the present. Though I mourn the future, I will remain in the present and live life to the fullest. If I continue to reminisce the past or worry about the future, I may miss the present – the greatest place to be alive. The past is filled with many memories and the present may contain many more, but the present is where all are made; causing urgency in all that I say and do.

In the Heart of Europe

(Budapest’s town hall)

Thursday begins the wonderful month of December, meaning only eighteen days remain of my time in Bulgaria. However, I will not allow myself to dwell on this sad though; choosing instead to think of the memories I have made and will continue to make over the course of the next few days. This weekend, I was able to add one more adventure and two more countries to my list of memories from this semester.

While my mom was a college student in Oregon, she met a foreign exchange student from Serbia; connecting with this woman and continuing that relationship over the years. On Friday, I was also able to meet this woman and her two children (Michael and Anna*); traveling to Hungary and then to Serbia with them. Because her children study in Budapest, I flew into the airport there; meeting the trio outside the gate and driving back to her son’s apartment.

After a nice home cooked dinner at the apartment, we walked around Budapest; viewing the beautiful city at night. Seeing the sights of the most livable city in Central and Eastern Europe by night proved to be rather cold; forcing us to stop in a café for dessert to warm up. Returning to the streets, we continued to meander; finally returning to the apartment to relax and go to bed.

Sleeping in until 9:00 AM on Saturday, we walked around the city a little more; seeing its majesty in the daylight. Walking along the Danube River, we saw both the Buda and Pest sides of the city (the two cities of Buda and Pest on the banks of the river were joined into one city in 1873). Following a coffee in a café (surprisingly my first of the day) we hopped in the car for the two-hour drive to Subotica, Serbia (their hometown).

Arriving in Subotica, we stopped for lunch and the most popular café in town (even the president of Serbia travels from Belgrade to dine there). After a tasty lunch, I was given a tour of the town (including the inside of the town hall). Beautiful, even during an overcast afternoon, Subotica’s charm captured my heart.

(Subotica’s town hall at night)

Following my walking tour of the city, I went with Michael to the local ice rink. However, we were not able to venture onto the ice because they had run out of ice skates by the time we arrived. Instead, we met Anna and a friend at a coffee shop for a relaxing chat and, of course, delicious coffee. Feeling more awake after two shots of espresso, Michael and I showered and met a couple of his friends at a pub for drinks before heading out for the night.

Only sleeping for a couple hours, we awoke early on Sunday in order to ensure that I caught my flight back to Sofia. Traveling back to Bulgaria, I was able to reflect on my time in Hungary and Serbia; realizing that it was one of my favorite weekends outside of Bulgaria. Spending time in Budapest made me acknowledge the fact that I have fallen in love with Eastern Europe. Being such a livable city, I would not mind returning to Hungary to either work or study. Only the future can tell!

*Names changed to hide their identity

When In Rome

(the Colosseum)

After spending a relaxing weekend in Blagoevgrad, it was time to spend another weekend traveling within Europe. Our next destination was Rome; an hour and a half flight from Sofia. Leaving on Friday afternoon, two other friends and I arrived in the Rome airport in the early evening. After depositing our baggage at the hostel (and exchanging our winter coats for lighter jackets), we walked in the direction of the Colosseum; searching for a restaurant with a nice view. Rounding a corner, my first sight of the extraordinary monument, bright against the night sky, took my breath away. Finding a nearby restaurant, we sat down and ate pasta and drank wine with the locals; enjoying the friendly atmosphere provided by both the servers as well as the patrons. Dinner was followed by gelato from another local shop; ending our first night in Rome on a sweet note.

Awaking a little later than we had planned on Saturday; we began our day with a stop at the Trevi Fountain. Water from a first-century BC underground aqueduct feeds the most famous fountain in Rome built by Nicola Salvi in 1732. The well-known custom is to throw a coin into the fountain; assuring your return to the Eternal City. If you throw in a second coin, you will be sure to fall in love with an Italian. Throwing in a third coin with guarantee that you marry said person. Obviously, I dumped in my entire coin purse in hopes of marrying a dark, handsome man who speaks Italian!

(the Trevi Fountain)

Following our stop at the Trevi Fountain, we continued onto Vatican City. Populated by just over 800 people on 110 acres, Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent state, both in area and population. In this country of churches, we entered the most dazzling of them all: St. Peter’s Basilica. Walking into the massive church (the entire Statue of Liberty could fit underneath the dome with room to spare) inspires awe in all who walk through the doors. Although this magnificent church is not the official center of the Roman Catholic world, it is the traditional location of the burial place of Peter (one of Jesus’ twelve disciples); making it an important pilgrimage location. Before returning to the hostel, we mailed postcards from the Vatican Post Office; a typical tourist activity.

Sunday led us to the Roman Forum and the interior of the Colossuem. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, the construction was completed in 80 AD under the rule of Titus. Capable of seating 50,000 people, this great work of Roman architecture and engineering hosted gladiator contests and other public spectacles until the early medieval era. Moving from the Collossuem, our next stop was the Pantheon. Built over two thousand years ago, this building still holds the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. After seeing the Pantheon, we took a bus across the Tiber River into Trastevere (a district of Rome rich nightlife) to search for a restaurant at which to eat our last Italian dinner. Finding a nice pizzeria, we enjoyed delicious pizza and more wine; a perfect last night in Rome.

(the Roman Forum)

On Monday, we arose early; ready to see more sights. Arriving at the Vatican Museums at 9:00 AM (when the doors open), we hurried through the first half of the museum in order to see the Sistine Chapel. Upon entering the room, you can’t help but to marvel at the wonderful works of art. Although Michelangelo resented the commission to paint the room, it became his crowning masterpiece. The bright colors and exquisite details of the paintings are truly astounding!

Although this city used to be the leader of the western world, it has since fallen from its high position. Powerful emperors and popes have come and gone; some leaving behind a footprint, others simply remember as a line in a history book. Though these men were very influential in their time, there was one who was greater. Living his entire life in the Roman Empire, Jesus Christ created a movement that is still alive today. After leaving the earth, this man empowered his followers to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth. Beginning in Rome and extending around the world, Christianity did not die with the empire; the love which our Father shared with us through his son is just as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago!

The Fall of the Wall

(Checkpoint Charlie)

Returning to Blagoevgrad at 1:00 AM, sleeping in, skipping both of my classes, and unpacking my bags concludes my fall break in Germany. Throughout the nine days I spend traveling through Germany, I discovered that this was a country in which I could spend of few years of my life. Everyone was very friendly (beginning with the man at passport control) and spoke English when my German failed. More than any other country I have spent time in, I fell in love with the people, the culture, and the life of Deutschland!

After spending three days in Lübeck, my mother’s friend and I drove three hours southeast to Berlin. Waking up at 6:30 AM on Saturday, we arrived in Berlin around 11:00 AM for a tour of the Bundestag, the German Parliament building with a great view of the city. Severely damaged during the Second World War, the building was renovated by Sir Norman Foster and reopened in 1999 with a spectacular new glass dome. Following our tour of the government building, we then strolled through the Tiergarten (Berlin’s largest city park) before heading to the apartment where we would be staying.

Deciding to spend the evening relaxing because we were tired, we attempted to catch a film; accidently arriving after the movie began because we thought it started later than it actually did. Instead, we found a traditional Christmas market, complete with glüwein (hot mulled wine), germknödel (fluffy yeast dough dumpling filled with jam and melted butter on top, often eaten with vanilla cream sauce and poppy seeds), cheese, and fireworks. Hanging out at the market for a while, we returned to our apartment; exhausted but happy.

(a glass of glüwein at the market)

Sleeping in until 8:30 AM on Sunday, we ate a late breakfast at a café across the street and planned the rest of our day. Because the sights of Berlin are spread out throughout the entire city, we decided to participate in a hop-on hop-off bus tour. Beginning our bus tour at the Konzerthaus (concert house) we jumped on the bus before dismounting and view the East Side Gallery. A remaining section of the Berlin Wall was turned into an international memorial for freedom; containing 105 paintings from artists all over the world over its 1.3 kilometer long surface. The building of the wall began on August 13, 1961; remaining erect during the time my mom visited Berlin. Now, after its fall in 1989, I can freely stand on the bricks marking the path of the dividing line; showing the slow transformation of a newly united city.

(standing along the East Side Gallery)

On my final day in Berlin, we awoke bright and early, ready to see the remaining parts of the city. Again hopping on the bus, we viewed the Charlottenburg Palace from the top deck of the bus before dismounting at Checkpoint Charlie. As the most famous of the Berlin Wall crossing points, this station was the location of a brief standoff between American and Soviet Union tanks in 1961. Walking through the nearby museum, I gained a better perspective a life in Berlin during the Cold War.

Because my mom’s friend was a student in Berlin while the Berlin Wall existed, I was able to view the city from her perspective. To hear various thoughts, stories, and insights into the heart of Germany during the twentieth century was a privilege I will never forget. My travels through Germany ended; bring me back to Blagoevgrad. Although I already miss that great country, I know that I will return someday, hopefully to remain for more than nine days!