The Neighbour: Flora

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First and foremost, happy birthday! It has been a rollercoaster of a year since meeting you and I’m so thankful that I did in Switzerland. As some of you may already know, Flora was my next-door neighbour at Bülachhof. Although we didn’t travel together, I’d often drop by for food, beer, and general good vibes. In the summer, we both returned for another month and it was a tumultuous time of exam-induced bonding. From bridge jumping to concert going, Flora has been there for some of the most memorable moments of my time abroad.

I got to know Flora through my travel mate Brandon and later through Alex and Zach when they “cried” over computer science courses at ETH. Honestly, they’re all too smart to be crying over machine learning and whatnot. I’m convinced that they were trying to normalize my intense stress over neurobiology.

Other than her academic rapport, which can be demonstrated by her golden track record at University of Toronto, Flora and I bonded over music. She told me a story about her adventures in Hungary, which resulted in purchasing a cello for a foreign seller and bringing it all the way back home. Not to mention the conspicuous keyboard that miraculously appeared in her flat over the holidays. However, it was our impulse concert ticket buying that sealed the deal. Bruno Mars at Hallenstadion will forever be engrained in my mind. She had messaged me late-March, with a proposition that I couldn’t refuse. I’m so glad that she had invited me to join on this little musical adventure because it perhaps was the most fun I had all semester. Like many concerts, it was exciting and carefree. The Swiss have a knack for streamlining every procedure, so it was also the least stressful concert I’ve ever attended (i.e., transportation, coat check, food, mosh pit, home). It was during this time that I got to see Flora flourish. I can 100% relate to her introverted nature, but each time music comes into play, she blossoms into her true colours. An absolute honour to see such a genuine person showcase their passion for something that they love.

Another aspect of showing your true colours is through adrenaline. What better way to feel the rush than by jumping off a bridge? It was adorable to see our group gradually increase in height in which we dived off the platform. Flora in particular came a little later in the day, taking a much-needed break from her studying. She had wanted to test out her new swimming skills in the Limmat. With each jump, we laughed even harder as we hit the rushing water below. The current would push us along, but that didn’t stop Flora and I from trying to swim against it. Flora is super athletic, with martial arts, tennis, snowboarding, and basketball under her (black) belt. The effort was for naught, but the experience was nostalgic. This was also when I realized that this girl could hold her own. I won’t mention in what regard for employability-sake, but definite respect across the board.

After returning from Zürich, we remained friends. She’s always updating me on concerts (Son Lux and Hyukoh, to be exact), which has done wonders to my personal playlist. I guess excellent friends have excellent taste in music. I’m so glad that she has been a positive influence in my life and I hope that I have been as well. So cheers, Flora, to more music and adventures in the future. I know it is bright.

The Do, Re, Mi’s of Mozart’s Biggest Fangirl

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Views of Salzburg across the Salzach River.

A dream is a wish your heart makes. But I wasn’t fast asleep this time. With eyes wide open, I had an amazing chance to experience Vienna and Salzburg in the most rewarding of ways during my weekend trip in April. No longer covered in layers of sleet and snow, the Austrian capital gleamed in the spring air. Often times I’d update my parents whenever I landed in a new destination and this time was no exception. I quickly snapped photos of a Chinese advertisement at the airport and my father’s immediate reply was a confirming nod of globalization. The trains, albeit not as great as the ones found in Switzerland, were shiny and new. However, the most staggering impression of Vienna was the level of cleanliness that permeated down to the little street tiles.

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A Can of Beer That Almost Ended It All

The best thing about meeting expats is the promise of housing when you visit their home country. Unfortunately, this was not the case for the Netherlands. Although we tried, this is also a lesson to not rely on someone else when you can do it yourself. We were still very grateful for the offer and sentiment. With that aside, I can honestly say that Amsterdam was not my cup of tea. Whether it be the lack of legitimate cafes for real caffeine or the narrow roads that catered to cyclists instead of pedestrians, this “Venice of the North” left much to be desired.

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Tulips were definitely the highlight of the trip.

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A Shakespearean Study Break

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Just a pair of ETH Zürich students pretending to be fancy.

Otello tells a story of love, revenge, jealously, and repentance. It was deviously entertaining when performed at the Zürich Opernhaus in March 2017. I decided to stay in Zürich that weekend because of prospective travels in the following weeks (read as: every weekend for two months straight). Luckily, my building mate, Colin, also shared a love for classical music. We were elated to have snatched 20CHF student tickets to the opera. If you’re a young person (under the age of 26) and/or a student, then you’re eligible to purchase discounted tickets on the day of the show. The seats are often good enough and especially worth it for the price you pay. However, popular shows might have longer lines and there’s always a chance that it is sold out before you arrive at the ticketing counter.

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The Flatmate: Kohei

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Just getting off the train at Zürich HB and waiting for Tram 10/14.

Exactly one year ago, I landed in Zürich, Switzerland. And the first person that I met was my flatmate Kohei! If you read my first post on this blog, you’d know that I arrived early in the morning. Around 7:00, I tentatively pressed the doorbell of Bülachhof 12 and waited in the cool February chill. A bleary-eyed student eventually emerged from behind one of the locked doors and graciously let me in. With formal introductions aside, I immediately took a liking to my roommate. It turns out that he had visited Canada before and even attended Waterloo for a short while. Obviously his physics skills were world-renowned. However, it was his kindness and helpfulness that stood out. He had already been on exchange for a semester prior to my arrival. He learned the ropes, so to speak, and passed on his local knowledge. I’d say, without him, I’d probably still be a bumbling fool trying to find the tram stop in Switzerland.

After guiding me through the transportation, insurance, and academic sphere of my exchange, Kohei and I often caught up in casual conversations in the hallway. He ran on a very different schedule than me and we only crossed paths between classes or late in the evening. It was always nice hearing about his experiences in the land of chocolates and mountains, but also his home in Japan. Later on during our exchange, the rest of our building learned that Kohei is actually quite a bit younger than the rest of us. Only to prove that he really is the smartest of us all.

Other than being a good friend and mentor, Kohei is a great cook. I never had a chance to eat his dishes, but I’ve heard great things from his group of friends. Since he already had a stockpile of Asian sauces and spices, he’d often let the rest of us roommates use some for our own meals. Just a little taste of home, I guess. Whenever he was in the kitchen, the flat automatically filled with mouth-watering aromas. Already inviting myself over Chez Kohei for next meal.

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Can 100% confirm that he makes 100% better meals than me.

It’s really a shame that I didn’t get to hang out with him outside of the flat. In those hallway conversations, I know that Kohei worked hard academically and didn’t get to travel as much. We talked about Granada, Spain as an option over the break, but I eventually left for Italy and he had research papers to write. Once the school semester ended in late spring, I was adamant in getting him out of the flat. On a hot summer-like day, I finally convinced him to join me by the lake for a quick swim. Even though the iPhone 7+ is advertised to be waterproof, I was still scared of dropping my phone, hence the less-than-perfect photos. This also means that, HI KOHEI, COME VISIT SOON!

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He finally found some time to relax with his clueless roommate!

Now that I’ve thoroughly embarrassed him through this post, I just want to say a quick thank you again for helping me out through those four/five months in Zürich. It was such a pleasure getting to know you and your crazy theoretical quantum physics mathematics (honestly, I’m still not sure what you study). I’m sure we’ll cross paths in the future, either for your academic endeavours or my travel plans spanning into Japan. Until then, you know where to find me!

We Were Staying in Paris

Or so the song goes. The Chainsmokers never ceases to amaze me by simultaneously dumbing me down and making me happy about it. Regardless of your opinion of the EDM group, you have to recognize their knack for churning out catchy songs. Or cute Instagram captions. Either or.

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Bülachhof takes on Paris.

This would be my second time visiting the City of Light, but Paris looked a little different this time around. I’m going to preface this post with “unpopular opinion”, so cut me some slack if I rained a little on your Parisian parade. If you had asked twelve year old Grace of her opinion of Paris, then it would have been quite different.

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Falling for Rhine Falls

New year, same sporadic schedule (hooray for alliterations)! Ideally this Rhine Falls reflection would have been up before the clock struck midnight on December 31st, 2017, but similar to impromptu day trips, some things just don’t work out. To preface this post, Rheinfall is the largest waterfall in continental Europe. Located in the northern canton of Schaffhausen in Switzerland, it was a quick hour train ride away from Zürich. Hence, on an abnormally warm March afternoon, JinWon and I decided to plan an excursion to the famous falls. Little did we know that we’d be blessed with Zach’s guidance as he was itching to use his new GA travel pass privileges. Off the three of us went on St. Patrick’s Day!

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Hooray for Asian tourists (who took this photo)!

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A Christmas Story

I should be writing about Rheinfall, Paris, and Reims, but instead, I’m here sipping white-hot chocolate on what feels like the coldest day of the year in Toronto.

Similar to the interlude during the impromptu Thanksgiving post, this will just be a quick recollection during the season. It is absolutely hectic between the festive obligations, but I’d like to say a few words about this year before we turnover to the next.

During Christmas, I have a tradition of sending all of my friends and family a short message, just wishing them a happy holiday and saying hi to their parents for me. Usually, I get a short message reply and we repeat the cycle again the next year. It’s a nice touch base. However, this year, I also sent the same messages to my friends overseas. Instead of the typical three-worded replies I get from Canadian friends, my pen pals in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland all wrote letter-like summaries of what they’ve done thus far since the end of exchange. It was nice catching up, even through a couple textual exchanges or a fleeting phone call. I’m sure it’s just the post-exchange depression talking, but I really miss them. We’re always planning to visit each other’s home countries, but with this kind of snow, I don’t think airplanes can leave or enter Toronto any time soon. Not to say that my Canadian friends are unfriendly, far from it! Canadians are the nicest people out there. Perhaps it’s because of the lack of physical distance that we assume immediate contact, thus prolonged updates are unnecessary. Regardless, it was nice hearing from everyone!

If you didn’t get a personal message from me, it’s probably because I don’t have your personal number! I guess it’s also a testament on whether we’re close enough to share that kind of information. Or whether there’s literally an ocean between us?

Wishing everyone who follows along a warm and blissful holiday. See you in the new year with new content on my Grand Italian Adventures and The Four Day Four Country Challenge!

Cheers!

Pre-Departure Logistics (Part 2)

Fun fact, I’ve been thinking about going on exchange again as part of my graduate studies. There was an information session last month and I still giggle each time the thought crosses my mind.

In continuation and certainly trying to warn you before your acceptance letter comes in, there are still a few more steps before jetting off to a foreign land. It’s all very exciting until you forget about visa deadlines or overweight luggages. Consider the following:

  1. Celebrate your acceptance!

First and foremost, congratulations! All that research and ridiculous resume writing has paid off. Go out with family and friends, take a mini-vacation, don’t study for that midterm (okay fine, keep studying!).

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A Thankful Interlude

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One of my favourite shots during my exchange. Taken somewhere along the Maltese habours in April.

This may fall upon deaf ears, but sometimes you need to sit down and really appreciate all that life has given you thus far. I was looking through my travel photos the other day and words could not describe how thankful I was for all of the amazing experiences I had over the past couple of years. Those moments captured, even for a split second, of sunset by the ocean or silly candid among friends; all accumulate into the person you are today. Sure you may sound like a pretentious prick when you compare one experience to another, but you’d rather be honest in what you’ve been through that sitting in the back seat while others spew out nonsense.

I had originally planned on posting about Rheinfalls or maybe the next segment of logistics. Heck, I should probably be writing about the amazing people I met during my trips. God only knows how mushy I’ll be when talking about the Bülachhof crowd or my classmates at ETH. No, this post is going to be short and sweet. Just about appreciating the present. It might be a coincidence that it lands on the American Thanksgiving too! Can’t help it when Canada’s pants are filled you turkey-gobbling tendencies for 24 hours.

So I leave you with a famous quote that got me through the past couple of years.

Just keep swimming.

If you know who said it first, then comment below! It’s quite obvious, but fun to play along. Can’t wait to see what the next couple of years will have in store for me. Perhaps Argentina or Australia? Let me know below where I should go in August 2018!