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September 21, 2014 | by  | in Online Only |
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Strange Swedes and a camel, Toe

For the first half of this year, I shared an 8-bedroom flat with international students in the stunning city of Lisbon, Portugal. We had a rooftop terrace overlooking a 10th-century Moorish castle. Life was pretty sweet.

You learn three things on an exchange. Well I did, anyway. I now understand that travel fuck ups make a trip into an adventure, just how real cultural differences are, and that Swedes have a name for “placing your dick gently on something”.

Not even kidding. It’s “olla”, very similar to the Portuguese “ola”, meaning “hello”. My Swedish friend lived in constant fear of a wild dick suddenly appearing to be gently placed on her.

My exchange city, Lisbon, is like a large-scale Cuba Street with cheaper hipster cafes, stunning century-old frescoed buildings, and full of creative, happy souls. I’m in love with the place! I spent my time in the culture-rich capital with my international friends drinking buckets of sangria (1.5 euros for 2L!), visiting artists’ markets, surfing, sunbathing, exploring the castles on the outskirts of town, and going to music festivals (Steve Aoki is a god). On weekends I’d do bucket-list type shit in unconventional places all over Europe.

I was lucky enough to spend a week in Turkey, exploring Istanbul, hiking the Star-Wars-like valleys of Cappadocia, and made a moving pilgrimage to Gallipoli (ANZAC battle site). I para-glided over the subtropical island of Madeira, held a chameleon and rode a camel (Toe) in Morocco, and swum around the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia (a.k.a. GOT’s King’s Landing). I laughed at the misfortune of being stuck in a taxi for nine hours in a snowstorm with a driver who could only say “yes” in English. And I learnt that if you’re crossing the border between Croatia and Montenegro (Eastern Europe), and the taxi driver stops to remove and hide his velcroed-on ‘taxi’ sign before crossing the border, he’s probably carrying cocaine. I even experienced the sweet, sweet feels of a heated toilet seat.

Living and studying in a completely different country is an experience no one should miss. You see the world with different eyes, understanding just how real cultural differences are; norms, humor, even values differ across cultures. It’s like a semi-blind person trying on glasses for the first time- you see how vast, diverse, and terrifying yet electrifying the world is.  So jump into the deep end. Go on an exchange. Discover the world. Just stay away from Swedish men who say “olla”.

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