London, England

Arriving in London at 7am after an eleven hour flight left forty students and four adults beyond exhausted yet there’s a full day ahead of us.

After quickly changing at the airport into clothing much cleaner and comfortable, we go straight to London and pass an upside down purple cow on our way to lunch. Walking the streets of London, it doesn’t feel realistic even though we’re standing thirty feet away from the 300ft London Eye. Our lunch is first served with an appetizer, tomato and creamy mozzarella cheese with a brown sauce drizzled on the top. As nearly every student tried a bite, it didn’t appeal to any of us and I ended up spitting the cheese into a napkin – way to make first impressions.

However, the first-seemed peculiar main dish, salmon pasta, turns out to be delicious. With every obscure course we encountered, we slowly discovered what we did and didn’t like which allowed us to gradually expose ourselves to the new culture we need to adapt ourselves into for the next three weeks.

As the very few and quick two days tick on the Big Ben, we’re rushing around the capital cramming all that we can into our limited time. In lingering queues, we finally get to the end and board the London Eye, capturing the beauty of the entire city from the top, also crossing off number twelve on my bucket list: ride the London Eye. Taking a short boat ride along the river where the Coca-Cola masterpiece lays, the end of the stream leaves us off with the awe-struck, breath-taking Big Ben. I’m gazing at the astonishing clock, imagining Peter Pan flying above the clock and landing on the minute hand. It feels all too real.

I’m in line for the London Eye, about to board, and I’m looking around to the crowd of people gathered around street performers and others trying to get from one destination to another attempting to wind through the blockaded walls of other people. Their “heat wave” with 75 degrees humors my friends and I as we’re watching the locals in tank tops, shorts, and in line for ice cream attempting to “cool down.” To us, this is our winter.

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Handing the worker in front of the entrance my ticket, he checks my bag for guns because I, of course, would definitely want to murder all these lovely, hot British boys around me. My friend behind me gets her bag scanned as well; however, his detector begins to beep and claims he found something. He yells our for another worker, eager to take her in, and the other worker glares at my friend. My friend’s stunned, pale white, frightened, until the first worker laughs letting my friend know he was messing around. Offended, she responds, “I don’t understand jokes.” I, at least, thought it was hilarious. The British have a grand sense of humor.

We later visit the Tower of London and venture to its famous Royal Gems which was valued more than my life. It was fascinating seeing how valuable and treasured such material items can be just because of its antique characteristic and the fact that an important human has touched it.

The vast London Bridge also left me in awe as I rode a ferry directly underneath it and sat in a bus that crossed on the bridge as well. Wishing people were capable of walking the top of the bridge, I imagined myself standing at the ledge, half an inch away from falling, but feeling the rush of adrenaline as the cool breeze kiss my cheeks and hugs my waist. I wanted to feel free up there, viewing the city in a full 360. The world is beautiful.

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With an impacted schedule (which the British apparently pronounce “shh – eh – duale”) and being completely exhausted by traveling for an entire day, we did much more than our bodies can nearly handle. Walking the Tower of London, visiting Big Ben, riding the London Eye, attending a play, walking on Abbey Street, watching the change of guards, viewing Buckingham Palace from a distance since there were guards everywhere, and visiting nearly every major Harry Potter destination in London. I’m beyond exhausted, but within this trip, I have another sixteen days to go.

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2,940 Miles

“Here, follow me.”

His inviting voice whenever I was with him always seemed to form into that phrase. All he wanted – and all I wanted – was to explore the city by ourselves. Eager, we sneak ourselves away from our tourist families and venture into the areas within Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, and other cities in New York.

Telling my adventures as if it’s a story will never own up to its authentic worth of experience. It’s not the fact that I was with a boy or that I was in this city of opportunity, but the fact that both were combined together, giving me a friend seeking the same thing: adventure.

However, every minute I spent with my so-called friend only consisted of rude nicknames, hitting each other’s stomachs, leaving bruises on each other’s arms, and being on the verge of throwing each other in front of a subway. But as each day passed and we stood in silence and gazed out into the streets, our presence made the chaotic city feel at peace.

We’re lounging around, laying on top of each other on the couch since our families wanted a “break day,” but drowned in boredom, we decide to walk a couple miles from his house to an abandoned park. We continue walking and notice the park doesn’t appear as a park anymore and transitions into the woods. Seeing two adult and one baby deers brought a smile to my face, and as we walk further down the hills and deeper into the endless trees, we approach an abandoned house. As we try to reach it without slipping through the vertical piles of dirt, we feel sprinkles of water grazing our skin. After a few minutes, it begins pouring. I begin laughing as he complains and groans claiming it’s my fault. I’m smiling as I close my eyes and embrace the showers thrashing onto my skin clinging onto my clothes. He grabs my hand and we reach the house and stand close together under an archway hoping it blocks the rain away, but it doesn’t. We’re staring at each other, hitting each other with branches throwing back and forth to whose fault it is, then he grabs me by the waist and slides his arm up to the archway right behind me, pinning me against the stone as he stares into my eyes. I stare at him and see that maybe I really do care about him, but I remember my philosophies on love and I look away and walk towards the rain up the hill and on my way home. We finally reach the doorstep of his house, water droplets are dripping from our finger tips.

With those adventures that I’ll never forget as we fought over the best spots to just simply sit at will more than likely not be shared considering they’re indescribable to me. With him, all my seekings that seemed so obscure back home didn’t seem foreign to him. Better yet, he wanted the same. But now, they’re all just a form of memories embedded in our minds and hearts.

Now that I’m 2,940 miles away, I shoot him a text thanking him for sacrificing his time to show me around the city and blessing me with his presence (only because I know being nice to him pisses him off). Amusingly, he tells me it wasn’t a big deal and that he actually enjoyed being around me despite the fact we had a cynical, sardonic relationship. Even on opposite sides of the country, our oscillating relationship stays intact.

Keeping track of each other’s time zones has been quite simple considering he pulls all-nighters anyways. As we text each other for ten hours straight regularly, I still question as to why I put in effort to a friendship that will more than likely diminish or why I even waste my time on a self-absorbed, inconsiderate asshole like him. “I’ll make a new friend this summer and do stuff, and I can’t just leave you hanging. I could maybe see you again next year. I liked how you really wanted to see the not crowded and touristy parts of the city,” he told me. With his simple words that I know may be untrue, it still got me to believe that in the future, I can reunite with my adventure partner.

As time ticks by and we’re staying up with each other, conversing about ourselves and finding extreme interest in each other, I find that behind the shield of asshole is someone who doesn’t care much about anything else besides the lingering desire for genuine happiness. Happiness that isn’t found through something that’s materialistic or through a significant other, but through the wondrous miracles right in front of our eyes.

Too many people gaze into the starry sky being fascinated by an eternal unknown beautifying its grand vastness, but as I was standing on the black pavement right next to an open car door about to say goodbye, he attacks me with a hug, and I realize that the galaxy is within ourselves. An endless wonder that’s yet to be discovered. We can explore the world together and sightsee towering buildings and climb obscure trees, but exploring into each other’s galaxies sounds like a more intriguing adventure I’ll take any day.

Now, a week later, I realize that I’m not only missing the city, but I’m also missing the only person who forced me to toughen up in a city that almost led me to anxious tears. It’s not like we’re partners in crime or anything,;we’re just two people who enjoy seeking the most spontaneous areas with unexpected laughs. We’re discovering a world we both step foot on while also discovering another world within each other.

One Awkward Person and One Stranger

For eleven days, I got to board a plane and fly to the other side of the country. Before departing, I was beyond terrified as to what important hang outs I’d miss with my friends. But as the day got closer and my friends weren’t my friends anymore, I grew more and more eager to leave, not only this city, but my entire life. I got to forget about it.

During my first day, I experienced these towering, claustrophobic buildings enclosing me into this foreign environment. People were bumping into me, cigarettes being smoked in my hair, and cars zooming through the streets breaking every traffic law. I already miss the dirt, trees, and stars back home.

As time progressed and my anxiety was preventing me from the opportunities laid ahead of me, I took a deep breath and let the wind take me. From then on, it was a city of nonstop excitement and anticipation. Despite the fact that my family was with me, I met someone who took my hand and guided me with my adventures. We took on New York together.

Originally, I was supposed to stick with my family and be the obnoxious tourists I dread to be. As tourists, you visit the most typical attractions, snap photos, and leave. You never have enough time to let the atmosphere seep into your blood, and all that surrounds you are foreign tourists and repugnant cameras. But as 16-year-olds wanting to ditch our families and see the world for ourselves, letting the cigarette smoke become my perfume and allowing the grass stains become our outfits, we took each other’s hand and ran out to the city with nothing but running shoes and perseverance.

The look he gave me as I was so awed while riding the subway, as homeless people with such incredible vocal talents perform on the train, made me feel like I haven’t seen anything in the world. By being so wonderstruck by a simple train, the look he gave me told me that I’m in for the most daring couple days.

Attempting to crash a New York party, hiking in the woods and getting trapped in the rain five miles from home, acting as delinquents in the Disney store in Times Square, helping me get the perfect views of the city, and completely gazing into the enveloping city lights from the top of the Empire State Building… we all did it together.

I’m not saying that I’ve fallen in love with a boy because I didn’t. I fell in love with the city and the fact that I was able to venture out into an entirely contrasted lifestyle with someone who reminded me that there’s more to life than the black, depressed burden I feel every day.

For eleven days, I was freed. I felt as though I was young blue jay who was trapped in a cage, seeing the same blank walls. I had about a foot of space to move around in, not able to see something new and make me feel like there’s another purpose to living. Then one day, the gate opened. I dashed through the gate and didn’t see the blank walls anymore, and I didn’t have a foot of space. I had an entire planet to see, and I saw a world of color with so much green, blue, and pink, and I met people who restored my faith in the future generations.

No words will ever – I mean, ever – describe the remarkable adventures I experienced in just a few days. All I can say right now is forget about every strain preventing you from your happiness. The world is too damn beautiful and it’s just waiting for you to see it.

True North Strong and Free

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Traveling for 11 hours with layovers, flights, and driving, reaching to the edge of the country appears to be one of the ultimate “must do’s.”

Hopping off the bus, the misty air hangs onto my cheeks and clings onto my messy, slept-in hair. The salty smell brings me back to sunny California and its oceanic scenery yet the chill wind contrasts reminding me I’m on the complete opposite side of home. Looking out into the environment, the endless shades of green leaves me in awe.

I walk down the paved pathway, stone and smooth, leading me to the thick railing, elbow-high. The waters swim it’s way down from my left to the right, frantically swaying its way to its destination. Eager to collapse 167 feet down, it soars over the rocky cliff and plummets down leaving a rushing sound.

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Above the haste waters, what seems only a few yards away from me, holds a whole different country. The tall, distinct buildings creates a formation of perfection. Each edifice formed into its own unique structure, emphasizing on the concept of an entirely new world that potentially can be so different from mine.

I see a different country across from me, and I want to be able to step foot on their vibrant green grass and tell myself I’ve escaped and I start over. Until my family tells me to stand in front of the view and smile for a photo, my fantasy vanishes.

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We take a cruise ride at the bottom of the falls, getting soaked by the divulging splashes. As the boat steers, we’re growing closer and closer to the breathtaking waterfall. Trying to capture a photo, my phone gets covered in water within seconds, and the pure whiteness of the view shines brighter than the sun.

On our way back, as the mist starts to slow, I check the GPS on my phone, and the blue dot illuminates illustrating that we were on the border, technically being in two places at once.

Bucket list #8: “Be in two places at once” checked off.