McKenzie with friendsMcKenzie Beard

November 5, 2018 | As I write this, sixteen strangers, tucked into their bunks, lie breathing deeply and snoring lightly around me. The mattress above sags downwards as its occupant rolls over. I begin to wonder how I ended up in a position so intimate as the one of sleep while lying in a foreign country with a room full of drifters. The girl who rests on the bottom bunk across from me whisks her wispy blonde hair up into a bun and reads Hemingway under the dim light of her iPhone. A modern-day cliche that every young person who is desperate and full of longing to see the world fantasizes about. When she rises, she moves swiftly and confidently through the dark expanse of the room filled to the brim with the gentle noises of slumber--it’s like she has made it her home, this odd in-between place shared with others.

During my time in Amsterdam, I encountered a plethora of young women I was able to see myself in--despite the fact that I never knew their names, where they were from, and sometimes, I couldn’t even understand. The Spanish girls in the room next door in the hostel drape over one another, all arms and legs, as they speak in tongues I can only dream of being able to one day know. Lined up in a row as they pluck, primer, and plump, I make up elaborate tales as to how they ended up in the same place as me; as they gaggle, I realize I don’t know what it is that they are saying or what their mouths look like, but I don’t need to know any of these things to be sure that they are smiling.

Top part of a bronze statueWe strut down the street along the canals, my friends and I, single file with our arms flung out at our sides like teetering tightrope walkers, and beam while the city churns around us. Red lights we’d grown up hearing scandalous stories about gleam off the water, as girls in windows stare down at our young and unaware faces. I lock eyes with one of them, these ladies of the night, and find myself realizing, then, that we have far more similarities than differences; united under the unspoken codes of girlhood. And then there’s Lola. Lola who we thought was dead upon arrival but now walks towards me, all skin and bones and fur--even the cat here is but a drifting girl.

When I found out that I was to have a day off of my usual scheduled madness, I knew I wanted to travel to Amsterdam. A city I’ve always been completely and utterly fascinated with. While the Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank House were surely sites worthy of awe, I found myself far more enticed by those who surrounded me. This program has allowed me to extend the bounds of the world that I was once confined to; moreover, the most important thing that college abroad has taught me so far is that the similarities between myself and others are far more prominent than our differences. See, the lessons I have learned sitting behind a desk or at a lecture are undoubtedly important, but, discovering how to overcome language barriers or unite under shared experiences that occurred a world apart are all the more valuable.

Bicycle resting on a bridge overlooking waterNow, laying in an unfamiliar bed kept awake by time zone changes, I think of Oregon. I remember back on the places I sought out solace within and the way that the leaves change in late October. I think of its rain and never-ending brick structures, and it’s too kind people. It’s then, in this moment of solitude in a room full of others, that I realize that home is indeed in your head. No matter where I end up, Oregon, and all of its oddities, flaws, and undeniable love, will always be with me.

I never did learn the name of the girl who stayed up until the early hours of the morning reading Hemingway; though I did realize that maybe here, it is enough to simply be a girl from nowhere in particular with a duffle bag and a bunk bed to call your own--if only for a night.

Blog History

McKenzie and her friends in LondonMcKenzie Beard

October 22, 2018 | In 36 hours, I experienced every emotion known to man. I grieved for my childhood as I watched the only place I knew grow desolate while sitting on a plane with not enough leg room. I felt my ego flood and quickly drain as I encountered, for the first time, the unfamiliar faces of those who would go onto being some of my best friends. I underwent the experience of my heart radiating joy and warmth while I thought of my future, and just as quickly, the shift and swell to sappy wallow at the thought of the immense unfamiliarity of it all. In my first 36 hours in Bath, England, I learned more about myself than I ever thought I would in the entirety of my college experience. Each day since then, I have continued to decide that I am willing to experience the loneliness and doubt because the payoff is far more beautiful.

Cow in Bath Now, we sit at the table, my friends and I, as the boisterous conversations of our British peers ring out into the evening, and wonder how we all ended up in this strange and fantastic place. Why we feel we’ve known one another for our entire lives, even though I can count the number of weeks since we met on one hand. We laugh over misplaced passports, missed bus rides, evening mishaps, and the way the cows (yes--Bath Spa University is home to students and cows alike) and their mooing act as a backdrop and cacophonous soundtrack to it all. Living and attending classes with the same 23 people allows you to get to know them on levels you may not want to; however, it also creates a common understanding and shared experience that unites like no other.

When I’m not frolicking through Bath, eating curly fries in the Student Union, or studying for hours on end, I find myself spending most of my time in England thinking about how I feel about being an American. British students ask questions about gun violence, Donald Trump, the Kardashians, and whether or not I’m proud to call the land of so-called freedom my home. As I watch events unfold an ocean away, I wonder if returning to Oregon in December will feel familiar or like an alienistic place; though, perhaps it isn’t America that is changing, but instead, me. Spending time in Europe has made me realize that while I may not be proud to be an American right now, I believe so fervently in the idea that young people are working to make it the kind of place worthy of pride.

Roman baths in Bath I could tell you about my classes, the way the Roman baths steam on a cold Friday morning, or how being truly on my own in a kitchen for the first time has lead to some unfortunate--albeit hilarious--disasters; truth is though, all of that is something you’ll experience in your own unique way if you choose to go on the most grandiose, eye-opening, and educational experience of your life. Closing in now on my first month in Bath, England, I look back on those first 36 hours and feel immensely proud of the person I was, though I know now, I am capable of so much more than I could have ever imagined then. No one ever tells you that college doesn’t play out the way it does in movies, that it doesn't happen gracefully; instead, that it’s all awkward, horrible, wonderful, and completely--oddly--right.

A brief list of things that I have been grateful for during my first month in Bath:

  • The loud and out of tune voices that sing ABBA songs with one another on the night bus.
  • The walk across campus. Despite the fact that the air is rigid and often the worst place to get caught in frequent downpours, it is surrounded by the greenest green and forces you to breath deeply.
  • Showers with adjustable water pressure.
  • Hearing that other people are also feeling the same complicated conglomeration of emotions that you are.