by Karli Walleser
We have a running joke in my family about traveling; we call ourselves the Griswolds. Now for those of you who don’t get the reference, the Griswolds are a fictional family from the movie “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” who road trip across the U.S. to a theme park in California. Along the way, every little possible thing that could go awry does, and the Griswolds find themselves in some awful – albeit hilarious – situations. Despite all the hurdles thrown their way, they still manage to make the most of each predicament and come out the other side with some of the best laughs, adventures, and memories as a family. Something to this effect always happens on my travels, so I was waiting to see how my time abroad would go. It started when I arrived in Swansea in September of 2016, at 11 p.m. on a Saturday, after almost 30 hours of traveling from my small town in Louisiana.
I arrived two weeks before fall term to take a pre-sessional course with other international kids. The Uni had us staying in Penmaen, which is all good and well, except I could not figure out how to get in. The ground floor appeared to be offices, and I circled the building for 20 minutes trying to figure out this weird British architecture.
Maybe I was senile from the lack of sleep or stressed about getting in before I was kidnapped, but I could not find the magical entrance. FINALLY, I figured it had to be the stupid door in between the offices. I let myself in and proceeded to drag all my luggage up the stairs to the second (or first for you Brits) floor because I somehow missed the elevators. I found my room and was just about to collapse from exhaustion when a head popped around the corner from the next room down. That head would turn out to be my first friend in Swansea, a girl named Katie, from Buffalo. My adventures began the next day.
The first few weeks were a whirlwind of sightseeing trips to the Gower, trying to figure out British pounds, and attempting to navigate without cell service. I came to realize just how beautiful Swansea was, and how beautiful my time here could be if I opened myself up to it. The days slipped by with walks on the beach, castle explorations, society meetings, and so many new friends. When you’re abroad, you find yourself in a unique position. You don’t have your family around to fall back on, so you’re forced to make a new, pseudo-family to fill in. My friends became the family I chose. What started out as one friend from that first night, soon grew into a dysfunctional bunch of goofballs I wouldn’t trade for the world.
I found my people, and pretty soon, I found my routine. Classes three times a week, pub quizzes at Pub on the Pond on Monday nights, movie nights with Disney Society on Tuesdays, dance classes throughout the week, Wednesday adventures with my homegirl Erin, pizza dates with Katie on Thursdays, and the greatest explorations on the weekends. Seriously, weekends in Wales are the best. Five months passed in the blink of an eye.
Now I’m home, and I miss it every day. I miss hearing British accents, I miss my lumpy mattress in Kilvey, I miss the weird food (love British people, hate British food), I miss those nights having the dance floor at Pop World to ourselves, I miss Kopparberg cider, I miss that annoying misty rain, I miss tracking sand into my room, I miss the pub quizzes, I miss the hectic Viva Swansea trips, I miss the bus, I miss the sheep, I miss my professors and my classmates, but most of all, I miss seeing my beautiful friends every day. To any and everyone who made my experience in Wales what it was—I thank you. I am a changed person, as cheesy as that sounds.
All I can do now is reminisce on all those things that did go wrong and think about how they made things go even more right. My Griswold adventures had their frustrations, but they gave me the greatest memories. And for that, I wouldn’t give the world.
I implore you to push yourself, to hop on that bus, or plane, or train to somewhere foreign, to leave your family and all things familiar, to go find your Swansea; to live. These are the moments you will look back on and wish you had. I’m so glad I did.