The Year of Lasts…and Firsts

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Today, was the first day of my senior year of college. Woah. Say what. Honestly, that doesn’t even seem possible but, as EVERYONE on Facebook keeps reminding me. It is possible. It is real. It is here.

With your senior year (both high school and college) I think there is this constant feeling of this is the last. This year I will have my my last first day of school at Luther, my last Christmas at Luther as a student, it is my last chance to be an RA, etc. etc. I feel completely bombarded by this sense that I have to be completely appreciative of everyday I have here at Luther because they are my lasts.

But today was also an important day because I sat down with an advisor and discussed my plans for next year. More specifically, we talked about my Fulbright application and my deep desire to teach English in Eastern Europe after I graduate.

In reflecting on that conversation and my last first day of school, I realized that this year is also going to be filled with firsts. And that is the cyclical nature of our lives. We have lasts but those always lead to firsts, and firsts are new opportunities.

So I am going to try and remember that this year, which will be filled with lasts that are going to be sad (tears will be shed…that I can promise), will also be filled with firsts and exciting new prospects. For all the rest of the Seniors out there, I hope that we can celebrate both our lasts and our firsts together.

Here’s to a new year. Bring it on.

Home

Earlier this summer, a friend and I were talking about the concept of home. He explained that he has multiple homes. That when he is in one, that feels like home, and when he is in the other that feels like home. His homes span different countries, speak different languages, etc. They are different but each place is uniquely home for him. I was so surprised that he was able to find home in places that were so different.

I understand what he was talking about now. This summer has completely redefined the concept of home for me. (*cliché alert*) Home is truly not about the place, it is about people who love you and accept you for who you are. Home is where I can be fully Betsy and people will love me for my good traits and my bad ones. Also, I think it is important to point out that home is where people will feed you J.

So, I have my childhood home in Eau Claire, my Luther home in Decorah, Oslo was home for a little bit, and now I have pieces of home spread across the world. I have parts of home in France, Ukraine, Norway, Bosnia, Armenia, the Maldives, Ethiopia, Serbia, Kosovo, and so many other places.

Part of growing up is learning how to make any place a home. How to adjust oneself to feel at home in a new place, whether that new place is down the street or halfway across the world. It gives me hope that I was able to easily make myself a home in Oslo. I proved to myself that I can do it, I can find home, and comfortableness in other places. This is great because a year from now, I will have to make a new place home again, and the fact that it happened so easily this summer, relieves a little of my anxiety about that transition.

So now, I am returning to my Luther home. Back to school, back to reality, back to the people who know me and love me. While Luther has been home for me for three years I think that there will be a recalibration period. Where I will have to adjust again, make Luther my home again…I will keep you all updated on that process.

 

The Fawcett European Adventures-Explained in One Photo

Four years ago, my parents gave me the biggest gift they have EVER given me. They allowed me to get on a plane and travel to three countries on a school trip. In the most cliché way, my eyes were opened. My world was 10 times bigger. And I wanted more…I wanted to see more places, meet more people, and experience more things. For this experience (and everything else they have done for me) I can never repay them.

From that first trip, I knew that I wanted my parents to have the same chance to see more of the world, just like they had given me that chance. So, when I got the Peace Scholarship, I told them that this was our chance. That they had to come and we had to travel together. And that is why this trip has been so amazing. Because I get to share the places that I have been and the experiences I have had with them.

Now I am not going to go into a long monologue about everything we have done. See Facebook for that. But I do want to talk about this one photo my mom took a few days ago in London. The photo below PERFECTLY sums up our family interactions on this long trip.

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Behind the camera, we have my mom. My mom is an EXPERT at documenting our trip. She is always taking pictures. Sometimes, Abby and I get annoyed with it. “No mom,” we say “we don’t want to take another family photo.” But here is the thing. I am already so grateful for the pictures she has taken; the moments she has documented. Many pictures that I rolled my eyes at are already cherished (example: the picture this whole blog post is written about :)).

On the left we have my dad. In this picture, dad is sitting, watching the world from the edge of the fountain. Watching people walk back and forth across the square, commenting on little things he finds interesting.  I love this about my dad. He is very easy going and go with the flow. In every sense, he has been the calming one on this trip. The only thing I would change about him in this picture is that I would have him holding some food. He is my fellow adventurous eater. He and I like to find unique food options, and then if I don’t like it he can always be counted on to finish it up.

On the right, is Abby. The older we get, the more I appreciate the little sister that I used to fight with every moment. I love her in this picture because she is in her element. Taking a selfie, trying to make me laugh. Abby can always make me laugh and not long after this was taken, I think she did succeed. Abby also has an amazing talent to take mundane things and make them beautiful. From taking selfies, to explaining artwork she learned about in class, she has impressed me at every turn with the way she sees the world.

And then you have me. You can see from the picture that I am intently studying a map, probably figuring out how to get everyone to the next place, in the quickest amount of time. Not long after my family arrived in Oslo, I was deemed the family tour guide, which has been stressful at times (perfectionism creeps into all parts of life). But it has also been so fun. I love figuring out maps, and public transportation. I enjoy staying up a little later than everyone else and strategizing where to go, when, and how to get there. AND to top it all off, I only got us lost once (even though my dad claims it was twice).

Now, we are in France. I can’t really believe that my family has only been here a week and a half. We have seen so much, walked way too many miles, and taken a few too many family selfies. This continues to be the trip of a lifetime.

In three days, my summer adventure will come to an end. I will not only be back in the States, but I will also be back at school. Back to normal life. But for now, I am going to ignore that reality. I can deal with it on the plane ride home.

 

 

 

My Weaknesses are My Strengths Out of Control

I have been wanting to write a blog on the following topic for a few weeks. Blogging and writing for me has turned into a really important exercise. It has been good for me to process, to reflect, and to work through what I am thinking and experiencing. Writing has become therapeutic. And that is why I’ve wanted to write this specific blog.

To start with, something that not very many people know about me is that I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression during my first year of school at Luther. I had struggled with both anxiety and depression since at least middle school but didn’t get help until it had completely spiraled out of control. But don’t any of you worry (especially you mom, I know you’re reading this). I got the help that I desperately wanted and now I am doing much better. I saw a quote the other day that perfectly sums up how I see my anxiety: “my weaknesses are simply my strengths out of control.” Because of my anxious brain, I love people differently, I am more sensitive to people’s emotions, I am a better student (aka perfectionist). My anxiety is a strength. Not a weakness.

With that being said, for the first time in over 2 years, this summer I really struggled with my anxiety and in turn I started feeling the depression creep back into my life. I couldn’t concentrate on school, I didn’t want to be around people, I lost my appetite, and I was scared. What was I going to do, in Norway, by myself if I ‘got bad again’?

But when I reflect on the summer, I realize that I proved to myself just how much I have healed since my freshman year of college. I have had dark moments this summer. I have been sad. I have been lonely. I have felt utterly worthless. But in spite of my thoughts I was able to force myself out of my room, into the arms of people who cared for me. Instead of wallowing in my thoughts, allowing them to take over every part of me, I fought back. And in my opinion I have won.

I could not have done it alone. To those of you who I shared my pain with this summer, thanks for listening, without judging me and loving me. To Alexa and Payton, your support from across the pond was palpable, I still can’t believe how you both knew how to say the right thing, no matter what. To Lilith and Ksenia, thanks for always bringing me food and hugs when I needed them. Jasmin and Jauza, thanks for always distracting me and making me laugh. To our “Lillehammer group” you guys are the real MVPs.  Thanks for making me put on makeup and go out…even when I REALLY didn’t want to.

The best part about this story for me? Is that I have proved I can do it. I can pack up my life in small suitcase (some would argue my suitcase was not small but I would ignore them), get on a plane and go halfway across the world and still survive! And it is a good thing that I proved this to myself because I am hoping to do it again. I got a big life to live and my anxiety is not going to stop me.

I know that some people reading this blog (haha they probably won’t read until the end) are going to roll their eyes at another person talking about their struggle with mental illness. And I will just say right now, I don’t want to hear it. It has taken a lot for me to finally write this down and now that it is written (and soon to be published), I feel great. I feel strong. And I feel like I am in control. I am not ashamed of who I am and what I have experienced. So don’t be a party pooper and keep your judgements to yourself J

New blog coming soon about the Fawcett Family’s European Adventures. Get excited folks. I have got some pretty great tales of first time European travelers…and even better selfies.

Change Sucks.

So I am one of those people who sucks at change. Like a lot. I like routine. I like to know what I can expect. I’ll admit it…I like to be in control.

The last fews years when I have gone from camp to school or school to  home or really anytime that I have packed things into a suitcase and gone from one place to another, I have really struggled. All I usually want to do is climb into my bed with Netflix or go for long drives in the car screaming to my favorite songs, or just let myself cry and be sad. But I would say that I have gotten better at these transitions. I have my ‘wallowing in sadness’ time down to about a day or two depending on how severe the transition is.

So here I am, faced with another one of these transitions. This time though I don’t think I am going to get over it in a day or two. This transition is different because I am different. This summer has fundamentally changed who I am, how I see and interact with the world, how I think, everything seems so different. And I will be honest, I do not know what this means for me and for my life when I get back home. This confusion is also making me a crabby travel companion (so shout out to Mom, Dad, and Abby for putting up with me-true unconditional love).

But, here are a few things that I have been able to figure out:

To my people at home, please don’t get annoyed with me. This is your warning. I will talk incessantly about this experience…at least for the first few weeks. Just let me do it. It is how I cope. I talk. A lot. You can maybe help the process go a little bit quicker if you ask lots of questions :).

To my new friends, thank you. It sounds so lame but you have proven to me time and time again that friendships created beyond all of the cultural, ethnic, and language barriers are some of the strongest friendships that can be forged. I am telling myself that if we can overcome those awkward first days we can overcome some separation from each other. I could (and might if I can get through it without completely breaking down) write a blog post about how each of you have changed me individually.

And for myself, I am constantly saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” And my personal favorite currently, “it is not goodbye, it is see you later.”

 

There is a human side to everything

A large part of our Peace Scholar program is a course that includes seminars and a research project. My favorite part of our course is the opportunity we have for field visits. We have visited scholars and activists and today we visited an asylum camp in Oslo called Torshov.

I didn’t know what to expect from our trip to Torshov. We have learned a ton, especially in the last week or so about asylum seekers and the refugee crisis. We have discussed numbers and policy; we have discussed the Norwegian response to the crisis but we didn’t have the opportunity to see the human side…until today. Torshov is a transit center which means that people live in the center for a short period of time, or they are supposed to, but do to the influx of refugees last fall, some of the people at the center have been waiting for up to 3 months.

Unlike some of the political rhetoric that surrounds refuges and asylum seekers would suggest, the people staying at Torshov are not living in luxury, they really aren’t even living comfortably. They stay in 8 people dorm rooms with a locker (think middle school lockers) sized storage space.

At Torshov, they honestly just wait. The people there do not have permission to work. They get an allowance of about 200 NOK ($23.27) every two weeks. The kids go to school and the center has activities and Norwegian classes to begin integration into the community but the main concern for people at Torshov is an intensive interview process that they have to prepare for. This interview (which can last up to 10 hours) is how the immigration officials make their decision as to whether or not the asylum seeker has a valid safety concern and thus a valid reason to stay in Norway.

I was reminded today about the importance of remember the human side of any political debates. Facts, figures, policy, those things are all really important. But at the end of the day, real people are effected by those decisions. And even in a country like Norway, that is known globally for its humanitarian efforts needs to be reminded every once and a while that other people are effected by our fact, figures and policy.  As far as the refugee crisis in the world today I believe that we can do better. We should do better to help real people, with real dreams, facing real persecution and hardship.

 

Traversing Telemark

I wrote this like two weeks ago but never got around to posting it. Here it is!

This past weekend, I spent time in a mountainous area of Norway called Telemark.

heddal stave chruchWe started our trip with a tour of the largest Stave Church in Norway, the Heddal Stave Church. This extremely large church was built in the 1200s and is STILL in use today (but only in the summer because they don’t have heating). The church had some amazing history which I nerded out about. I also noticed (and loved) how proud Norwegians are of their history. They don their brunad and proudly describe the culture and history of the area miles around.

My favorite part of the Telemark trip was actually all of the time we spent in the bus. I had so much time to watch the scenery and just think. And the scenery in Telemark allows one to think about a lot-how big this world is, how small I am-it was existential.

After the Stave church we went to the Vrangfoss locks. This was the part of the trip I was most skeptical of. I kept saying to my friends…are you kidding me? My excursion includes boat watching-how lame! And while the locks were not my favorite part of the trip, I realized they weren’t that bad. They too held lots of history as they are one of the oldest sets of locks in Norway. They are still man run without the help of machinery.

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Pictures can’t do this place justice.

We drove more after the locks and headed up in the mountains to our overnight accommodations. Our night at the lodge was probably my favorite part. We had a great dinner, then hiked, canoed and sat around a fire. I was one of the only people on the excursion who has canoed or built a fire so I got to use ALL of my camp counseling skills (shout out to Sugar Creek!!). It was such a relaxing night and made me miss my nights on Riverboats last summer.

On Sunday of our trip we headed to the town of Rjukan. This town is unique in that September-March, they are so far down in the valley that they do not see the sun. The locals have came up with so ways to deal with this. Including a cable car, the Krossobanen that goes to the top of the nearest mountain. At the top there is all sorts of hiking trails. We spent over an hour explore and found a beautiful waterfall that we could drink from. We had plenty of time to take adventure selfies.

After that we went to the Vemork museum. This museum was added to the UNESCO world heritage list last year. It has interesting history rooted in WWII and the occupation of the Nazis. As a WWII history buff I really enjoyed myself.

So that was my trip to Telemark! Before I left, I had a bit of a bad attitude about the trip, I even considered skipping it to stay in Oslo with friends. But, I am so happy that I forced myself to go and to be positive about the experience because it turned out to be an amazing weekend exploring a part of Norway that I wouldn’t have otherwise. So lesson learned: stop complaining.

 

Now, I am headed into my long weekend. I am spending five days in Berlin with three other Peace Scholars and two of our friends that we have met at ISS. Look out next week for highlights from our trip! (This blog will be up at some point…I still have to write it).

 

Week 3-CHECK!

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Relaxing after an afternoon hike 

Wow! Week two at the summer school is already over. What the heck is up with that?

These first two weeks have been such an amazing chance for me to grow, as a student, a friend, and as Betsy.

As a student, classes here are very different than what we have at home. The hardest part for me has been balancing fun and Oslo exploring with when I am going to do my 50 pages of reading each night. But, even if I don’t always get my reading done, I have learned TONS in my Scandinavian Politics class. If anyone ever has questions about how the Norwegian party system works…I am on my way to being able to answer your questions.

Personally for me, this week was a little hard. I think (at least I have heard) that most students studying abroad hit a bit of a loneliness wall (that is what I am calling it) and I think I hit that this week. It is amazing to be surrounded by so many students from so many different countries and cultures, but honestly this week I really just wanted to be with my Luther people for a little bit (and thank god for Facetime because I did get to be with some of them J).

But, as weird as it might sound, I am SO grateful for the loneliness I felt this week. I have been able to do a lot of reflection. I have spent more time alone, with my journal or a book, listening to music and just observing the people around me. This has been a great exercise for me. I also have gained a weird sense of independence and confidence as I realize that I don’t NEED other people to make me happy. Yes, it would have been nice to have people who really really get me when I was going through a round patch this week, (I am looking at you Pay and Alexa) but I survived without those people AND was able to cultivate new relationships with new friends here who are quickly turning into those I can turn to when I need them. Patience has been key-patience with myself and patience with others.

Overall, I am loving this place and I am not sure if I am ever going to come home (just kidding mom!). I will be writing again in a few days (after I watch the Euro Cup game and do my homework) about my adventure to Telemark this past weekend!

Also, if you understand anything about Scandinavian national pride you should check out this article about the twitter fight between Denmark and Sweden. It is hilarious.

Reflections from the Nansen Center

 

nansen.pngLast week, we Peace Scholars started our summer journey with five days at the Nansen Academy, tucked away in the wooded, mountainous region of Lillehammer, Norway. There, we met with another 15 students and three dialogue workers. Together, the 30 of us represented 16 countries including, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Ethiopia, Uganda, Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Maldives, the US, and Norway., Up until our time in Lillehammer, we had all lived relatively different lives from each other. But a few hours, some pretty amazing food, and a little bit of aquavit got us to share our lives with each other.

I quickly learned that the 29 people in the picture above, are some of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure to get to know. Each of those people, are working, to create peace in their lives and their communities. Each of us are striving for a better version of the world than what we have now. We came together in Lillehammer, united under a passion for dialogue, for conversation as a tool to peace.  And together, we experienced dialogue. We were coming for such different places yet we understood each other, we were able to work towards a common goal. A particularly frustrating (but effective) lesson was learned when we had to rank a list of concepts in order of importance.  None of us agreed with anyone else and we definitely did not agree as a group. But somehow, we were able to come to a common understanding. We might not have agreed with the final list but we did understand each other. And that is the goal of dialogue.

Leaving Lillehammer last Friday was terrible. Partially because the food was so good at the Center and I was not excited about the cafeteria food that faced us the rest of the summer. But I mostly hated leaving because of the goodbyes I had to say; to our mentors, to our friends who were returning home, and to the comfortability of the academy, a place where I had been wholly myself for five days.

But we did not go to the Nansen center to explore what a comfortable life looked like. Conversely, we learned that pushing for peace, for transformative dialogue and for change in the world is uncomfortable. Leaving the Academy, challenged us to take our new knowledge with us, into the International Summer School in Oslo, and back into our home communities. So with a new group of amazing friends, and a passion for dialogue, we head into the International Summer School. Bring it on.

Joke’s on Me!

Five months ago, I decided to apply for the Peace Prize Scholars program. And if I am being honest, I didn’t really read the fine print, specifically, I didn’t comprehend the part about how if I got the scholarship I would be going to Norway for the summer. Lol. Joke’s on me because here I am. In about 2 hours, I will be on a plane headed for Norway for the next seven weeks of my life.

At first glance, this didn’t seem like a big deal. I mean I have traveled abroad before and I have been away from home for longer than seven weeks. This should be easy right? Well maybe.

First of all, packing I mean come on how does one pack their entire life into one suitcase. To be more clear, how do pack my entire life into one suitcase. After many hours and lots of pack and unpacking, I conquered this challenged (it was close, weighing 51lbs…oops).

The next challenge, saying goodbye to my family. First Madison and Peyton and my sisters, than my parents. It was hard. I hate leaving and we Fawcetts cry…alot. But, I am happy to say that we conquer this challenge as well (also, barely, I won’t lie it took a lot of blinking to prevent any tears from falling).

My last challenge was to prepare myself, mentally for the experience coming up. Katie Kovachovich gave me some great direction in this arena. So I decided to come up with a few goals to hold me accountable.

  1. Learn how to agree to disagree and how to love other through disagreement

  2. Appreciate the differences that exist in the world. Ie. the most cliche study abroad goal ever but I think the International Summer School in Oslo will be able to give me this experience in a way that studying abroad in other capacities might not.

  3. For the first week, sit next to new people at least 1 meal a day. Every week after that, sit next to new people once every few days. I like this goal because it is practical and straightforward.

  4. Say yes and avoid saying no. I can sleep when I am dead. Or at the end of the summer.

I know that this summer will bring more challenges and that this is simply the beginning but I am SO excited and ready to take these challenges head on. Norway, here I come.